When You are Overcome by Bitterness and Unforgiveness

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What God’s word tells us about forgiving others

Are you struggling with forgiveness? Are you just not able to shake that one thing that cannot seem to leave your mind, leaving you feeling angry? You may be battling bitterness, which is defined as: unpleasant, hostile, angry, sour and resentful. Bitterness is an emotional state when a person is so angry and hurting that they may want everyone else to feel their pain, thus lashing out at others either passively or aggressively. 

The bible speaks clearly against bitterness:

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. - Hebrews 12:15

Many Christians worry about the outward things but fail to look inward, and this verse says clearly that bitterness will defile us, making us unclean in the eyes of God. Bitterness must be avoided at all costs as it will completely destroy all of your relationships, from those with your friends and family to your relationship with God and your eternal standing.

What is the solution to bitterness? Forgiveness.

To overcome bitterness, you must learn to accept the fact that trials come and other people are often part of your trials. You must learn to forgive so you can experience true peace and restoration in your relationships. A spirit of forgiveness may not come easily to you, and that is okay. Pray for God to help, while remembering that he has forgiven you for so great a debt.

When You Feel Like You Can’t Forgive

Here are a few things you should remember when you are battling bitterness and feel like you are unable to forgive.

Bitterness and anger will hurt you more than the person who sinned against you. Bitterness can seep into your life like a poison, keeping your pain alive rather than letting you deal with it so you can get beyond it. When you hold onto bitterness, you enable yourself to relive the hurt over again. 

Forgiveness does not deny an offense occurred. Forgiveness also does not absolve the guilt of the person who hurt you. We can hold others accountable for their actions or lack of them but we are to ultimately release our right to vengeance because God promises that He will repay. 

Unforgiveness can hinder your prayers. In Psalm 66:18, the psalmist says, “If I had cherished in iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” To cherish something means to hold it dear. When we hold on to our sin (in this case bitterness or an unwillingness to forgive), we make a home for our sin and emotions that can hinder our relationship and communication with God.

Unforgiveness is offensive to God. Even our own sin is offensive to God. It is easy for us to be self-righteous if a person sins against us, telling ourselves that we never would have done something like they did. But scripture is clear that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Yet our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and should not be trusted because our standards are not perfect like God’s. We are incapable of pleasing God on our own and should not expect others to be. We need to see sin (both ours and others’) as God sees it, acknowledging that we have no righteousness of our own without Christ. It is only God’s mercy that keeps us from committing sins that others commit against us.

Furthermore, if we do not have any righteousness of our own yet withhold forgiveness from others who have sinned against us, we are essentially elevating ourselves above God, which is undoubtedly wrong.

God offers mercy and forgiveness to us and it extends to those who sin against us. God extends mercy to us that we are able to extend to others. He gives us grace to do what we are unable to do. He says that if we ask, we shall receive. If your request is pure-hearted with a willingness to please Him, he will help you in your struggle to forgive. 

Find rest in God’s sovereignty and justice. We live in a fallen world but it will not always be like this. One day, God will make every wrong right and punish all repentant sinners, while calling all wicked souls into account. We need to trust him with vengeance and do our best to obey him with what we have, resting in Him and his goodness to us. 

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