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Are You Well Preserved or Pickled?

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A Look at Bitterness, Part One

Authored by Tina Kapp

My favorite taste is sour, followed closely by salty and sweet. Sour candies, pickles, anything with lemon, sour cherries—you name it, I love it! People have different preferences when it comes to flavors and tastes, but the one taste I’ve never found to be anyone’s favorite is bitter. It’s not surprising. In fact, the word I saw most used to describe the definition of the word bitter is “unpleasant.”

It seems to make sense that they also use the word “bitter” to describe the act of holding on to resentment and anger.

I once read an article that said there are three types of bitterness.

The first bitterness is against God. This type of bitterness can come from situations where you don’t understand why something bad happened: the loss of a loved one, a natural disaster, or anything that you feel is unfair. You can get angry at God for not having stopped it and figure He didn’t hear you when you prayed—or maybe He doesn’t care.

The second type of bitterness is toward others. Maybe someone treated you wrongly, did something dishonest, or talked badly about you behind your back. You feel that you can never really forgive them—or if you could, they don’t deserve it, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair.

The last one—which we don’t always realize is a form of bitterness—is bitterness toward yourself! You may know in your heart that God has forgiven you for some mistake you’ve made, but you can’t forgive yourself. So you berate yourself and hang on to those negative feelings, replaying every mistake in your head and not accepting encouragement from others.

Bitterness toward others is one that I think affects all of us at one time or another. Everyone gets hurt, and at some point in life it’s hard to handle some pretty tough people and situations. That’s completely normal. And if someone is downright nasty to you, you’re only human, so it will feel pretty awful. The secret to overcoming in such a situation lies in how you dealt with that hurt.

Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble.” Bitterness can make you miss out on the grace that God wishes to give you. And like the example of the root, at first it’s difficult to notice bitterness, but as that “weed” of bitterness sprouts, there will be symptoms. And if you let it continue to grow without uprooting it, it can take over your life.

The only way to uproot bitterness from your heart is to forgive the one who has wronged you. Now that’s very easy to say but extremely difficult to do. What helps is to realize that none of us are perfect and if we’d like the Lord to forgive us when we mess up, we have to pass it along. That’s the deal. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”1

In Mathew 18, Peter asked Jesus how many times he needed to forgive someone, and if perhaps seven times was good enough. I have a feeling Peter may have been wronged six times and figured he’d had quite enough and done his fair bit of forgiving. Jesus answered that it was closer to seventy times seven, which I personally don’t think was an actual figure but more like what we’d say “a gazillion times.” To Peter, I bet that answer felt like some never-ending amount, so Jesus went on to tell the story of Bildad the Servant. Okay, the character in the parable wasn’t actually named, but that’s what we’ll call him.

Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wants to sort out his accounts, so he gets his servants to pay back the money they owe him. Bildad owed him ten thousand talents—millions of pounds in today’s currency! He wasn’t able to pay, so the king said his wife and children and everything he had would be sold to pay back the debt. It was a pretty harsh system back in the day.

Bildad fell on his knees crying, “Be patient with me and I will pay back everything!”

The king took pity on him, canceled the debt, and let him go. Okay, I don’t know what you would do if you just had a debt of millions of pounds forgiven and your family was given back to you, but I would feel like I had won an enormous lottery. But something was seriously wrong with Bildad, because after that amazing display of forgiveness, he went and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, which was a fraction of the debt he had just been forgiven, and grabbed him and began to choke him, demanding he pay the money back immediately.

His fellow servant dropped to his knees and begged, “Be patient with me and I will pay you back.” Instead of remembering that he had just said the same thing, Bildad had his fellow servant thrown in prison until he could pay him back.

Other servants saw what happened and told the king, who called Bildad and told him that he was a wicked servant who should have had the same mercy on his fellow servant that he had received. In anger, the king had Bildad thrown into jail until he could pay back his debt.

Jesus concludes His story with a pretty hefty statement: “This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”2

Talk about motivation! It can seem like a tall order. It’s not easy to, as the Bible says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”3 Thankfully, the Lord knows that, and He promises that He will help us to forgive, if we ask Him to: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”4

Another motivation is that bitterness affects not only your personality but your looks as well! Like the funny illustration of the two old people. One woman had a big heart, always helping others, and forgave easily. She looked bright, cheery, and robust for her age. Her neighbor always saw the worst in people, grumbled all the time, and told stories of the many times he was wronged and couldn’t forgive. He looked mean and weathered and you could almost see the cartoon rain cloud and lightning over his head. The caption read, “Some people are well preserved; others are well pickled.”

Which will you be?

1 Matthew 6:14 NIV
2 Matthew 18:35 NIV
3 Ephesians 4:31–32 NIV
4 Philippians 4:13 NKJV

Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International

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