Bitter people are hurting their offenders to pay them back, but a tragic irony occurs. By taking vengeance, they hurt themselves worse than they hurt their offenders. Even worse, they injure themselves worse than their offenders injured them originally.
As one observer put it, “Harboring bitterness is like shooting yourself to hit your offender with the recoil of the gun!” Consider the consequences of usurping God’s prerogative.
The Emotional Consequences
Bitterness will poison your emotional life. There seems to be a connection between bitterness and depression. Many embittered people complain of chronic, unexplained depression. They don’t seem to have the emotional resilience to circumstantial adversity they once had. God evidently designed us to have an emotional reserve that acts as a buffer to adverse circumstances. We fill this emotional reserve primarily by cultivating thankfulness toward God and by practicing love toward others. Cultivating and maintaining bitterness, by contrast, takes up much emotional energy and therefore places a real drain on our emotional reserves. Consequently, bitter people often find themselves easily depressed.
(This is not to suggest that bitterness is the only cause of depression. There are many other causes, including chemical imbalance. Those who experience chronic or severe depression should seek professional help to discover the cause(s) of their depression.)
The Relational Consequences
When we become bitter towards another person, we usually think our bitterness will negatively affect only that relationship. We think we can tolerate this sin in our lives and yet isolate its destructive effects, but harboring bitterness will greatly impede our ability to develop any healthy relationships.
Some people seem to have a floating bitterness. Their real bitterness may, for example, be rooted in their attitude toward parents who repeatedly humiliated them. They may live a thousand miles away from their parents, yet flare up with anger when anyone embarrasses them. This can hurt their ability to sustain close friendships because embarrassment is inevitable in this context.
Long-term bitterness has a way of poisoning your personality with negativity. Embittered people tend to become cynical and full of self-pity. Over time, these attitudes can even affect the way people speak and carry themselves. They develop an angry tone of voice, or a nasty facial expression, or even a hostile bodily posture. Most of us have known people whose whole being communicates that they are deeply angry people. Tragically, such people tend to repel others, and then become more embittered against people for rejecting them.
Most bitter people complain that their offenders have used their power to wrongly hurt or control their lives. In most cases, this is the truth. The sexual offender, the domineering parent, the abusive spouse have all used their position of authority or trust to take advantage of their victims.
The more immersed we become in rehearsing their offense and expressing our revenge, the more we allow them to dominate our lives. This is why bitter people often become like their offenders in certain key ways. We were victimized by their controlling behavior, but then we become excessively controlling in our relationships with others. In a mysterious ways, bitterness reduces us to the level of the people we hate. In usurping God’s role to judge our offenders, we become like the very people we judge.
The Spiritual Consequences
The most precious privilege of the Christian life is enjoying relational closeness with a forgiving God. While bitterness will not cause God to reject us, it will eventually rob us of the ability to enjoy our relationship with him. Consider John’s warning in 1 John 2:9-11.
“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him (NIV).”
Bitterness produces spiritual blindness because it is so profoundly hypocritical. Christians are the recipients of an incredible forgiveness. We are guilty before a holy God who has just cause to reject us and condemn us forever. Like the man in Jesus’ parable, we expect to make others pay their debts to us while we have our own, greater debt forgiven. We insist on the right to take vengeance on our offenders, we want to enjoy the benefits of being forgiven by God. This double-mindedness is extreme.
If we choose to retain our right to hate others, we forfeit the privilege of experiencing God’s mercy and goodness. When we server this crucial linkage between receiving God’s forgiveness and extending it to others, we become spiritually paralyzed. Our Christian lives will shrivel away from what they once were when we allowed the wonder of God’s mercy with us to spill onto others.
The above article was edited from the book, Loving God’s Way, written by Gary DeLashmutt, published by Kregel Resources. This is not really a marriage book —it’s a book about relationships, which of course marriage is one of them. And as you can see from the portion we edited above, Gary has a lot of good insights on how to help relationships improve.