I don’t know if there’s anything worse than bitterness. It is a slow self-torture that leads to inner death. Bitterness is losing after losing. It is hurting after being hurt. It is being abused after the abuse. It is letting the offender defines our life even after he stopped.
“Bitterness is like poison that you swallow hoping that someone else dies.”
And worse, bitterness is a very lonely place. No one likes to be around bitter people. Bitter people complain and gossip all the time. They are angry people. They hurt others because they were hurt. I should actually say they hurt others because they want revenge. They hurt others thinking about hurting the offender. They can be manipulative to destroy. They drag other people down.
But in reality, bitterness is the consequence of deep pain. It finds its root in injustice. We become bitter when evil was done against us and justice has not been served. No reparation was made.
The problem is people only see the consequences. They do not understand the violence of the pain inside. They do not give room for wounded people to let the hurt come out. Or maybe they do but they get tired of hearing it. But bitterness is torture. Just like someone would yell because of physical torture, a bitter person wants to yell out the pain that is constantly inflicted upon him.
The difference resides in the fact that it is self-imposed. Or I should say it is imposed by what was done, but not addressed appropriately by the person. Our deep desire for justice leads us to grow thoughts of retribution. We want the abuser to receive punishment for his wrongdoing. How can we bear the idea that the abuser is enjoying a free and happy life while he imprisoned us in a mental and emotional shipwreck? And even if there was punishment, it is rarely enough to make it right.
The true solution resides in two aspects: forgiveness and justice. Ephesians 4:31–32 says:
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”
Bitterness builds on unforgiving. It hardens our heart. It feeds resentment. It leads back to pain. On the contrary, forgiveness requires to soften our heart and to let go of what is due to us.
I feel Eph 4:31-32 does not do justice to those who have been hurt. It does feel there are only words for those who desire to take revenge. Again it seems there is no room for grieving. And worse, there is nothing for the abusers and offenders. How can we forgive when evil gets away?
I wish there would be a few words to satisfy the victims’ cravings for revenge. Instead, I have often felt the obligation to forgive. I have felt being the “carpet of God” – being trampled on the ground, eating the mud, used and abused – and being called to this one thing: forgive! Where is God’s justice? This passage is unfair!
And indeed, forgiveness is unfair when there is no payment. That is why the apostle Paul says in v32 “as God in Christ forgave you.” This is the basis for forgiving. We ought to forgive because we were forgiven by God. And honestly, it is very difficult. We wonder: Why would “being forgiven by God” be the basis for forgiving someone else? Imagine for one second that you did something wrong against Alfred. Alfred forgives you. Why would you owe Alfred to forgive Mark who has hurt you? Moreover, we feel we had to ask for forgiveness to God while the other person may have not even thought about the evil they committed.
The response lays in the fact that retribution belongs to God and He will deal with the person who wronged us (Rom 12:19). When one hurts someone else, he sins against God as much as he sins against that person. God is as affected as we are by the evil done to us.
Therefore, God has the right to ask us to forgive especially because we were in debt toward Him. He may or may not exercise His power to punish, but it is now in His hands. He has the right to forgive as much as we do because He was as sinned against as we were. And because we were forgiven by Him, we can only bow down to His decision.
As for us, God offers a solution to exit the prison of bitterness: “Let go because it is now my issue!” In Christ, we can hope for both forgiveness and justice. It is rarely a one-time thing to do. Bitterness relentlessly takes us back to feelings of pain, worthlessness, anger, and depression, but we have to remember repeatedly that we have a solution in Christ.
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ ” (Ro 12:19)