Highlands Blog

Beware of Bitterness {A Girl’s Guide to the Good Life}

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Posted in Highlands Blog under Character, Women

Beware of Bitterness (woman tasting a sour lemon)

Situational Bitterness

Whatever it is we think we deserve; we don’t. It seems merciless to strip our presumed entitlements of their sympathetic narratives and leave them standing stark naked in such unforgiving light. Why be so brutal about it? Because cherishing feelings of entitlement is just the type of thing that nourishes the root of poisonous bitterness and bears an abundance of rotten fruit. When the Israelites were preparing to enter the Land, they received a warning:

Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.—Deuteronomy 29:18-19

God wanted His people to be guided by His commands rather than the desires of their own hearts. Though we may affirm that God is sovereign, that He is the creator and determiner of all things, that He knows the end from the beginning; though we may carry this thought even further than that agreeing that He does all things well; we often do not live lives reflecting these truths. Why? Because we feel we are entitled to something different than what He has given us. We believe that in some way we have gotten the short end of the stick, a raw deal. We compare ourselves amongst ourselves and determine that we deserve certain benefits during our lifetimes and we become bitter when the benefits are lacking.

A Short & Bitter History

The history of God’s people, our history, is not without stories to show us the extravagance of our erroneous thinking. In the book of Ruth we see Naomi declaring herself to be bitter and placing the fault for this at the feet of her God for dealing harshly with her. When Naomi suffered the loss of her husband and two sons she turned inward, while her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth turned herself toward God and care for her mother-in-law. Demoralized by her lot, Naomi pressed her daughters-in-law to give up the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in favor of returning to the gods of Moab. This is the bitter fruit the command of the Lord had warned against at the birth of the nation. Her advice to her daughters was to go wherever the best deal could be found, to judge for themselves their circumstances and follow the stubbornness of their own hearts. Naomi’s tongue couldn’t taste the sweetness of the Lord’s unfailing lovingkindness because she was filling her mouth with sour grapes instead. How often do we share her acidic feast?

If we flip a little further in the Biblical narrative we find Job. If anyone had a “right” to feel entitled it was Job. The inspired Word tells us plainly that he was blameless and upright, that he feared God and turned away from evil. Yet he was dished out such heaping helpings of suffering that thousands of years later “the sufferings of Job” is a cultural idiom even to unbelievers. Job loses everything: children, livelihood, health, even his wife (though living) tells him bitterly to “curse God and die.” His friends spout many wrong-headed reasons for his suffering and defame the character of God in the process. When these dialogs leave behind Job’s foolish friends we find that God’s response to His servant Job is, in short: Who do you think you are to question Me?

And the Lord said to Job:
“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”
—Job 40:1-5

Even this meek response does not entirely please the Lord and is answered with another expression by the Creator of His own awesome power and magnificence. To which Job humbles himself in repentance and says to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? ‘
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me. ‘
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
—Job 42:1-6

It took Job some time to fully understand that circumstances, even when they are marred by adversity and heartbreak, never give us the right to question God or to succumb to a bitter heart. How long will it take us to understand the same?

If we turn the pages once more, this time to Jonah the prophet, we see one whose resentful petulance flees from the grand and merciful plans of God to call sinful men to Himself, to instead wallow in self-centered rancor. Jonah didn’t want to go to Ninevah, because he didn’t want the Ninevites to repent, they weren’t Israelites, they didn’t deserve mercy he thought. When God brought Jonah to Ninevah in spite of himself and the Ninevites heard the warnings and did indeed repent, Jonah went off to the wilderness to pout about it declaring he was so unhappy about what the Lord did he would rather die than keep living. What?! God brings 120,000 people, an entire city, to repentance, and Jonah is so consumed with his own importance that he thinks the world is no longer worth living in? How often do we join Jonah in a self-made wilderness instead of rejoicing in the work of the Lord?

A Force to Be Reckoned With

Bitterness is a powerful force. It can steal in quietly and consume every bit of love, joy, and compassion in your heart before you realize what happened. It will turn you inward and skew your perception of the world. Do not be deceived by the candy coated entitlement-mentality that the world is offering. They are merely dusting sugar onto a bitter pill.

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!—Isaiah 5:20

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. That is what the Proverbs tell us. If your heart is consumed with bitterness, bitterness is what you will pour out into the world, yet bitterness is not what we are called to. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice (even when they got something we didn’t), we are called to weep with those who weep (even when they are mourning the loss of something we have never had), we are called to bless those who persecute us and do good to those who hate us (even when they made us mad). The good life is not about us getting what we deserve—quite the opposite. It is about living with constant gratefulness that the grace of God rescued us from well-deserved destruction just like the Ninevites. It’s about remembering that the lovingkindness of the Lord is everlasting even when our faith is weak and we fail like Naomi. It’s about expressing humble God-fearing repentance like Job. It’s about leaving off bitterness and honoring God as He deserves. Only when we have the honey of His kindness on our tongues will we be able to, “taste and see that the Lord is good!”


Other posts in this series:

Don’t Be Stupid
Be the Right Kind of Busy
Be True
Don’t Be Too Nice!

 

  • Sam

    Wow, that’s a great insight into the situation Naomi and her daughters-in-law. I always knew she was bitter, as she clearly said so herself. But what I hadn’t done was realize the rotten fruit born out of the bitterness. Actively encouraging someone you love, someone who loves you, to forsake the LORD…how terrible! Thanks for pointing that out.

    I have a friend whom I believe is dealing a lot with bitterness in her own life. To be sure, her life hasn’t been the sort that a girl would order for herself. But the bitterness is certainly harming some relationships and holding her back from living the kind of life God blesses. I’ve been praying that the LORD would reveal to her the bitterness she carries, and give her the grace to repent of it and rejoice in Jesus. I’m going to recommend your article to her reading. Thank you.

    • Very glad it was helpful. Just keep reminding her and encouraging her to acknowledge and rely on the strength and character of God. When we turn the focus of everything to ourselves we suffocate under the weight of it. Deliberately turning my effort to giving thanks and praise to God for who He is, is one of the best ways I have found to train my heart away from bitterness and grumbling. It’s not like flipping a switch, it’s more like a daily (hourly?) decision to trust that He is who He says He is, and He is good. May your friend find peace and joy in Him, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

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