Bitterness is a biting resentment that clings to a person like a flesh-eating parasite. This unpleasant affliction shows itself with some of the following symptoms: harsh, unprovoked cynicism and an antagonistic attitude that can become downright hostile.
Something bitter can be described as "sharp like an arrow or pungent to the taste, disagreeable; venomous." This idea of physical bitterness comes from Numbers 5:11-31; a process is described wherein a priest would give tainted water to a woman under suspicion of adultery. If she was guilty, then a curse would come upon her that would cause "bitter pain" (v. 27).
The more figurative definition of bitterness speaks of an emotional or mental state that works destruction in the mind like a poison would work destruction on the body. It's a state where the affected party clutches their anger in a death grip, refusing to let it go, all the while braced for a fight at even the smallest, most illogical offenses.
Anyone who has fallen into the pattern of bitter thought can attest to how hard it is to break the mold they've placed themselves into. Bitterness colors life in a grimy film, making things that were once innocent and beautiful look like they're something sinister or just masquerading as something pure. It's a miserable place to be, and it can feel like our feet are encased in concrete when we try to just "let it go."
If bitterness is something you struggle with, be careful not to entertain those thoughts or they will pierce your mind like the root of a tree and become unshakable. Ephesians 4:31 says to get rid of negative feelings toward others right away: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice."
Bitterness resists change. Bitterness wants its captives to stay right where they're at instead of reconciling with the thing that hurt them (knowingly or unknowingly). Once bitterness has begun sink into a heart, getting rid of it is like trying to pull a tree stump out of ground with your bare hands. It just isn't going to happen.
If bitterness is left unchecked, it can lead to wrath, and wrath leads to angry outbursts, and angry outbursts lead to slander, and finally, the stage will be set for the heart to nourish an attitude of malice toward another person or group of people. None of these are godly attitudes, and bitterness is at the root of them all.
It is critical that we aim to keep bitterness from getting a foothold in our lives, and instead seek to conform to the image of Jesus Christ and His characteristics (2 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 4:14-16; John 3:30; Luke 9:23-24).
It's easy to say how horrible and destructive bitterness is. It's easy to point the finger at the bitter person and say, "That's bad." But what about the person who already has bitterness rooted in his heart? Even if the desire to change is there, how do we go about fighting something that may have already permeated the fiber of our thinking?
Ephesians 4:32 says, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."
Whereas bitterness is the result of withholding forgiveness and releasing anger, the cure for bitterness is extending forgiveness and giving kindness. That's not to say this is easy, or that it happens overnight. But nothing is impossible with God. With the strengthening of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to overcome even the deepest bitterness (Matthew 19:26).
Remember that you have been adopted into God's family only because He first forgave you. None of us deserve God's forgiveness. But instead of striking us off the face of the planet when we sinned, God extended His mercy and grace and gave us an opportunity for a new life through Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:12-13).
On the days when we don't feel like forgiving others, and we're hurt and tired and angry, we can look to the God who loves us and gives us the power and the state of mind to extend love instead of hate—even when it's difficult or undeserved.
"So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." —Colossians 3:12-17
Bitterness is an unpleasant affliction of biting resentment that leads to harsh, unprovoked cynicism and an antagonistic attitude that can become downright hostile. Ephesians 4:31 says to get rid of negative feelings toward others right away. Keep bitterness from getting a foothold in your life, and instead seek to conform to the image and character of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 4:14-16; John 3:30; Luke 9:23-24).
September is an avid film nerd from growing up on weekend trips to Universal Studios Hollywood. She is passionate about the intersections of Christian spirituality, faith, and storytelling in popular culture. Outside of 412teens and digging up obscure horror flicks from the 2000s, she works as a freelance developmental editor and acquisitions consultant while comforting her clingy feline floof, Faust, from the anxiety of existence.