An Apologetic on BITTERNESS

©2015  by Terry L. Craig

 

"And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength." Mark 12:30, New Living Translation

 

There are those who might wonder why an "apologetic" would focus at what many deem a mere emotion.  But a look at Scripture shows that bitterness is something God takes seriously.  The Bible links it to bondage and the sins of heresy, idolatry, jealousy, selfish ambition, boasting, and pride.  We are told that bitterness harms the heart, soul, and mind—and that it is defiling, not only to the individual but to groups as well.  I'd say that's pretty serious.

 

Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. -- Deuteronomy 29:18, New International Version [italics added by me]

 

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; -- Hebrews 12:15, King James Version [italics added by me]

 

And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: -- Ephesians 4:30-31 30, King James Version

 

What does bitterness have to do with heresy?

 

In the Book of Acts, there is an encounter between Peter the apostle and a man named Simon Magus-- having been amazed by the mighty works that accompanied the message of Philip -- joins the believers in Samaria and is baptized.  When Simon sees that the Holy Spirit is imparted to people when Peter and John lay hands on them, he tries to buy the power to do this as well.

 

Peter answered:

“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.  Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart.  For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” -- Acts 8:20-23, New International Version [italics added by me]

 

Peter declares that Simon needs to repent of wickedness and ask that, if possible, the Lord will forgive him.  In the years to follow, Irenaeus and others would write that Simon Magus became one the founders of Gnosticism [i], a successor of Dositheus, the "gnostic heresiarch."[ii]  It is also said he had huge public debates in Rome with Peter the apostle.  Ecclesiastical writers of the early Church represent him as the first heretic, the "Father of Heresies."[iii] [iv]

 

Again, what did Peter say was at the root of Simon's separation from truth?  "For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin."

 

All of us have at least one deeply tragic tale to tell . . .

 

We should allow ourselves and others the opportunity to speak of what hurts or angers them.  We should allow others to disagree and seek justice for wrongs.  There is a difference between these and the bitter, one-stringed violin that can only rehearse the same tune over and over.  Once someone gives into bitterness, it begins to take over their whole life and virtually everything they see, hear, and say is eventually filtered through it—it becomes a cup of poison they continually sip and spill on others.

 

Both bitterness and forgiveness have eternal consequences.

 

Bitterness will eat up a church, a community, a culture, a country, your home, and your very life . . . yet the world finds in bitterness a constant source of entertainment and profit.  Have you ever noticed how many books (even comic books), plays, movies, and TV series invite people to taste the imagined delights of revenge? 

 

Their throat is a yawning grave; they use their tongues to deceive (to mislead and to deal treacherously). The venom of asps is beneath their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. – Romans 3: 13-14, Amplified Bible

 

Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words: -- Psalm 64:3, King James Version

 

It may be important to note here that one of the woes that befalls earth (in Revelation 8:11) is "Wormwood"—a star which falls to earth, making a third of the waters bitter and causing many to die.

 

The poison of bitterness is often manifested in what we say.

 

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them. . . . Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?  But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them." -- Matthew 15: 10, 17-18, New International Version (See also Mark 7:1-23)

 

"You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." -- Matt. 12:34, New International Version

 

"A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." -- Luke 6:45, New International Version

 

What can we do to combat the searing gall of bitterness?

 

  • Stop imbibing the heart-hardening bitter cup of the entertainment world that glorifies, justifies, and encourages revenge. 

  • Refuse to participate in bitter intrigues and jealousies that Satan would set lose in the Church, your community, your sphere of influence.

  • Recognize bitterness is a sin and repent of it.  Ask others to hold you accountable if necessary.

  • Forgive and pray for those who wound you. 

  • It may sound obvious, but sometimes you need to warn others when they are bitter and encourage them to repent.

  • Lay hold of the wisdom from above, and share it with others.  

  • Repeat as necessary.

 

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 -- Hebrews 12:15 King James Version

 

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.  -- James 3:14-71, Revised Standard Version

 

"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." -- Matthew 6:15-16, New International Version  (See also Mt 18:21-35; Mk 11:25, 26; Eph 4:32; Col 3:13)

 

"Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart." -- Matthew 18:32-34, New International Version

 

"But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," -- Matthew 5:44, New International Version

 

As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 7:59-60, New American Standard Version

 

SCIENCE has discovered that bitterness can be deadly

 

It makes me smile when science "discovers" things that we are told in Scripture.  In the last decade there have been multitudes of articles written by doctors and researchers on the destructive power of bitterness . . . and the healing power in forgiveness.  Here is just a small sampling:

 

According to an article by Mayo Clinic staff on the Mayo Clinic's website entitled, Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness, they advise: "When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge — or embrace forgiveness and move forward. . . . But if you don't practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being." [v]

 

Once someone gives into bitterness, it begins to take over their whole life.

 

Elizabeth Cohen, Senior Medical Correspondent for CNN, filed a report entitled, Blaming others can ruin your health, dated August 18, 2011 2:37 p.m. EDT.  In this report, she quotes Dr. Charles Raison, MD (Professor of Psychiatry and Family & Consumer Sciences at the University of Arizona, Riason Lab) who said, " . . . but the problem with bitterness is that it goes on and on. When our bodies are constantly primed to fight someone, the increase in blood pressure and in chemicals such as C-reactive protein eventually take a toll on the heart and other parts of the body. The data that negative mental states cause heart problems is just stupendous," Raison says. "The data is just as established as smoking, and the size of the effect is the same."[vi]

 

This same article also quotes Carsten Wrosch, an associate professor of psychology at Concordia University in Montreal: "Studies have shown that bitter, angry people have higher blood pressure and heart rate and are more likely to die of heart disease and other illnesses."[vii]

 

There are many such articles establishing the link between bitterness and ill health—particularly heart health.  But scientists aren't addressing an even  deeper truth—that both bitterness and forgiveness have eternal consequences.  Again, let me quote the words of Jesus:

"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." -- Matthew 6:15-16, New International Version  (See also Mt 18:21-35; Mk 11:25, 26; Eph 4:32; Col 3:13)

 

Even when we engage in Apologetic arguments we need to recognize that bitterness can nullify the work of defending the faith.  Is there a wiser course?

 

Often, an apologetic does more to strengthen weak believers than it does to "convince" those who would tear down the faith.  And, let's face it.  Apologetics can get ugly because its purpose is to counter falsehood.  But if, in the process of making our case for faith, we are (intentionally or unintentionally) firing up bitterness in others we need to give that some thought.  Whether the embittered ones are those in the faith who are turning into an angry mob, or those against us who have no intention of listening to any argument we can offer, no matter how wise or reasonable—if our words are only serving to stir up bitterness, then perhaps, at times, the wiser course is silence and prayer.

 

Is there no cure?

 

I am heartened by the story in the book of Ruth.  Ruth, a Moabite woman finds herself in desperate straits after losing her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law—all in a time when women had few rights.  She is left with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who is so embittered that she tells people she no longer wants to be called by her given name, but by the name Mara (which means bitter).  She is bitter about her losses and her circumstances, and she wants to lay all of it at the doorstep of God. (Ruth 1:20-21)  But God uses the love and enduring faithfulness of Ruth to melt away Naomi's anger and draw her back to faith.  It's a great story.  I know we cannot always see such victories, but I believe that God can use our love and enduring faithfulness to win some (both inside and outside the church) who might otherwise be lost.

 

With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.—Prov. 25:15, Revised Standard Version

 

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:22, Revised Standard Version

 

I'll end this article with a quote from Hebrews.

 

Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” – Hebrews 3:12-15 Revised Standard Version

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©2015  by Terry L. Craig

 

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Related articles:

DOGMA vs. Jesus
Are You Becoming a Hater?

 

Scripture quotations marked New International Version taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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ENDNOTES:

 

[i]   Kirsch, J.P. (1912). Simon Magus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved February 23, 2015 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13797b.htm  [back to article]

 

[ii]   The Pseudo Clemens,  ANF08. The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, The Clementia, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First by Philip Schaff  (PDF online, P 44   http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0050-0150,_Pseudo_Clemens,_Recognitions_%5BSchaff%5D,_EN.pdf Chapter LXXIV. (Accessed 2/23/15)  [back to article]

 

[iii]   Kirsch, J.P. (1912). Simon Magus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved February 23, 2015 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13797b.htm  [back to article]

 

[iv]   All of the statements about Simon Magus are also contained in Faussetts Bible Dictionary, p 654 "S.Magus" ©1949, A. R. Faussett, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapid's Michigan  [back to article]

 

[v] http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692, accessed on Feb. 23, 2015  [back to article]

 

[vi] (http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/08/17/bitter.resentful.ep/, accesed Feb. 23, 2015)  [back to article]

 

[vii] Ibid.   [back to article]

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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