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Volume 19, Issue 1: Femina

The Arrogant Root of Bitterness

Nancy Wilson

Because bitterness is a root, it is hard to detect in its early stages. But if it is not identified and dealt with quickly, it inevitably grows, eventually breaks the surface, sometimes in spectacular ways, and the results can be sad destruction.

Where does it come from? Probably the same place that "wars and fightings" come from—our own lusts and envy (Jas. 4:1-5). Bitterness is resentment gone to seed; it is what happens when you feel wronged by someone else and you give way to indignant feelings. These feelings fester and grow, spreading and multiplying. Bitterness feeds on hurt feelings, annoyance, pride, and self-pity, and when it is nourished, it can erupt into a fountain of filth and blind hatred. It is icky.
But one of the odd things about bitterness is how often it becomes so very self-righteous. A bitter person typically sees the faults of others under the magnifying glass, particularly the faults of those who have offended him. Some of these may be real faults, and some may be imagined, but it always spells trouble when other people's sins become our fascination. They should not captivate us. Life is way too short.
And it is almost funny (if it weren't so awful) that bitter people sometimes latch on to Bible verses that do not apply to them at all. Consider Galatians 6:1: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." The bitter person reads this verse and says to herself, "That's me! I am that spiritual person who should confront my brothers and sisters about their sins." Rather than seeing her own bitterness as the very thing which disqualifies her from correcting others, she mistakes her critical spirit for expert vision and concludes that it must be a spiritual gift, a sign of how she is "spiritual." From this she determines that she must be God's appointed means of confronting sin in everyone, particularly those people with whom she has a grievance. This is a classic case of the beam versus the speck in the eye. Bitterness creates spiritual blindness and lopsidedness, and a bitter eye sees everything through its own distorted lens.
Not only that, but the verse is misread in another way. It says "restore such a one"; it does not say, "confront and rebuke such a one." So not only does the bitter person with a grievance mistake her own qualification for the job, she misses the job description itself. The spiritual person is seeking to restore, and the process of restoration takes time. The bitter person is just doing drive-by rebukes. The former is constructive; the latter, destructive.
This is laughable, but it is mostly pathetic. The truly spiritual person is qualified to correct others as a means of restoring them because she has not been offended by them. She is concerned about someone other than herself, which makes her reluctant to correct and wise when she deems it necessary. But the bitter person is often self-appointed to confront and rebuke others about their sins, failings, shortcomings, etc. Of course, a person with a bitter spirit cannot discern such things at all. If she could, she would recognize her own sins first. And this would bring humility and repentance, which would in turn cause her to shiver at the thought that she ever dreamed of correcting anyone about anything.
Wives can do this to their husbands, confronting their husbands in a manner designed to mostly relieve their own desire to "get even." Bitter wives can harp and harangue and nag and persecute their husbands with an air of superiority and a patronizing spirit. And they trick themselves into thinking they are the spiritual ones in the family.
Mothers can become bitter at their children and correct them the wrong way and for the wrong reasons. They can lord it over their children and then pride themselves on "running a tight ship." But their children can never make the mark, and they eventually give up trying to please Mom.
Friends do this to one another when jealousy or envy has made "restoring such a one" a very desirable business indeed.
A bitter girl can feel compelled to "confront" a friend or sister about her flirtatious behavior, when jealousy is the real problem. Or perhaps she may feel the need to rebuke her sister about immodesty, when the truth is that she resents all the attention the attractive sister is getting from the boys.
Bitterness, like jealousy and envy, creates overbearing men and women who become deceived into thinking that they are superior to the very people who are far ahead of them in every way. Rather than cultivating a spirit of humility, bitterness breeds pride and arrogance that parades as a "concerned brother or sister."
Given the danger of bitterness, we ought to be very suspicious of ourselves when we become overly concerned about the sins of other people, particularly family members. Our own sins should keep us occupied.
If you feel a burden to "confront" someone, check your own heart for any sneaky little bitter attitudes of jealousy, envy, or competition. Has this person ever offended you? If so, you are probably not qualified to do any correcting because the fact of the offense may have more to do with your desire to confront than you realize. Pray over this for a week or a month and ask God to deal with your own heart first. Then, if over time you are free from bitterness and resentment, see if it is really your place to do any restoring. You may find your taste for correcting people has disappeared and that you find it much easier to overlook the sins and faults of others.

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