“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb. 12:15).
Bitterness is a sneaky sin because it usually masquerades under a veneer of piety, especially in the church. Bitterness can often sound like a concern for justice. It says, I’m not bitter, I just want justice to be done. Or, I’m not bitter, I just want them to stop sinning against me. Or, I’m not bitter, I just wish they would admit they were wrong and really change. And of course, there is a godly way to want any one of those things, but the difference is that the godly heart is at peace, full of joy, and is willing to think good things of those people.
But bitterness is marked by surging feelings of angst and pain, and there’s often a snarl in the tone of voice. Bitterness is often marked by the words “always” or “never” – they always do that, they never do this. Bitterness retells the story, often regularly, refusing to admit that there were any good times, any good things. Bitterness often requires a perfectionistic, all or nothing, repentance. If they don’t completely change, they haven’t changed at all. And often this is because bitterness is highly defensive. Bitterness says, I can’t ever let that happen to me again. And so bitterness refuses to have forgiveness because you’re afraid you’ll let your defenses down and you’ll be sinned against again.
In this way bitterness is a kind of strange idol. Defensive angst seems to protect you, seems to keep you safe, seems to see right and wrong very clearly. Except it doesn’t. And this is because the wrath of man does not work the justice of God. Bitterness is an attempt to grasp a kind of control over your life, or at least over your pain, but it still eats at you. It’s still troubling you and defiling many. Scripture says, Leave vengeance to the Lord. He will repay. Do you trust Him to protect you? If you do, then you can forgive your enemies, you can confess your bitterness and you can still be safe from all their sin.