“Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.
“Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God.
“Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.” (Hebrews 12:14-15)
Bitterness is a nasty disease.
Some might compare it to cancer, because it has a tendency to eat away at your innards — it’s common knowledge that stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, and various digestive ailments can be exacerbated by chronic bitterness and it’s corrosive derivative: anger.
Bitterness is far worse than cancer, in my opinion. Cancer merely eats away at our bodies before claiming our lives. Bitterness eats away our souls long before any physical symptoms take their toll. And as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, it also poisons everyone around us. If ‘misery loves company’ sounds like a good way to do community, then bitterness is your ticket.
And make no mistake: bitterness is a community disease. The writer of Hebrews says it ‘corrupts’ others; another translation renders the same word as ‘defiles’. Both words are evocative depictions of the toxicity of bitterness — an individual who withdraws into their own bitterness withers on their own, but in a community, the rot spreads and takes root.
Sometimes, in my imaginative little mind, I picture bitterness as a troll hiding under a bridge in our faith journey. Salivating with malicious anticipation, the Troll of Bitterness latches on to our souls like a bear trap. And once its got a good grip on our hearts, minds and emotions, it’s murder to get rid of.
“Wow, I bet God never thought of that.” (Said no-one ever.)
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Bitterness is tough to beat, if you just focus on “I’m trying my Olympic best to stop being bitter.” Trying to negate a negative usually just ends up giving you a double negative — now you’re bitter and also frustrated by your inability to get a handle on the bitterness.
Choosing kindness, and softening your heart towards others is an effective antidote. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to bless those who curse us, to love our enemies, and to pray for people who treat us like garbage (Luke 6:27-28). Couple that with forgiving as Christ has forgiven us, and the previously iron-clad grip the Troll of Bitterness held begins to turn to jelly.
And instead of corrupting and defiling the community of faith, we begin to look more like the Body of Christ.