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Ed Jordan: Neutralizing Bitterness

Posted: 8/18/17 at 11:50am. by Ed Jordan.

All of us have had bad experiences in life, which if allowed to fester, will make us bitter.

One of my Old Testament professors, in referring to Exodus 15:22-27, frequently said: “If people are not careful, their encounters with bitter experiences can make them bitter people.” In that Exodus passage, the people had been delivered from Egypt and found themselves in a hostile, grueling desert. The physical heat affected their mental perspective, as did the scarcity of water.

When they finally arrived at some water, they discovered it to be bitter and undrinkable. They became angry and frustrated, and they blamed Moses for their dilemma. Moses turned to God in prayer, asking for God’s intervention. God revealed to Moses a solution for the bitter situation. The people then drank their fill of water, and their bitterness dissipated.

As mentioned above, we have all encountered circumstances that could easily turn us into bitter people.

For example, when my father was a young adult, he was doing quite well financially. Suddenly he lost it all in the “Great Depression.” That experience made my father bitter for many decades. It was not until the latter years of his life that he turned to God and allowed God to free him from the bitterness.

In my own life, we liquidated our assets and left the U.S. to serve God as missionaries in another country. We spent 11 years abroad, embracing the people and customs of our new country in service of God. One day the group that employed us told its employees to sign onto new rules which were beyond what we could fulfill in good conscience, so we resigned and returned to the U.S.

At the same time, there were 66 families who made the same decision we did. It was an unfathomable decision, with huge personal and family consequences, losses, and grief. For the children, the decision included loss of “home,” friends, schools, language, culture, familiarity, and future. For the parents there was loss of their dream, their vocation, the years of investment, friends, language, culture, income, and of main support systems. Most returned to the U.S. wounded, shocked, unemployed, and as strangers in a strange land.

God can remove the pain, if we are willing to let it go.

In the midst of all those losses was also the pain and doubt of where God could be found in the midst of all the derivative chaos.

When faced with such traumatic upheaval, there are some clear choices possible. One is to live in denial and pretend it never happened, stuck in time like a scratched phonograph record that replays the same part over and over.

A second choice is to become bitter and to attempt to seek some kind of pointless revenge or remuneration.

A third choice is to work through the grief process in an effort to recover and gain some psychological, emotional, and spiritual healing.

A fourth is to seek God, allowing him to pour out his grace into your life, and to give him your cooperation in removing the root of bitterness from your life.

God can remove the pain, if we are willing to let it go. The memory of the event still exists, but the raw emotional pain associated with it has been mitigated.

Revenge is counterproductive, and obsessing on past hurts only makes us retain their poison, without correcting the past. Keeping the fire of pain burning prevents us from experiencing life in the present or in the future.

The way forward towards emotional, psychological, and spiritual health is to come to Jesus, release our pain and grief to him, and ask him to remove the deep-seated roots of our bitterness which, when present, cause us even more pain. We need to seek God and ask him to perform a root canal to remove the source of poison and bitterness, seek to experience and give forgiveness to others, and then to live by God’s grace each day.

This is the advice of Hebrews 12:15 (NLT): “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.” Don’t live in bitterness; let God neutralize and remove it.

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.