Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Gracelessness of Bitterness

...every one a drum major leading a parade of hurts, marching with our bitterness. -John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

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

Bitterness is the spawn of anger and resentment. It is God-defying and Grace-denying. Bitterness demands that the person who committed the injustice against me be cast into the Prison of Rejection until they have paid every penny owed me, with interest.

He cheated me/ failed me/ abused me/ knifed me in the back

She abandoned me/ lied about me/ kicked me when I was down

They rejected me/ kept me from getting the promotion/ laughed at me

“You could have prevented this”/ “If only you would have…”

It’s one thing to be disappointed or even angry over an injustice. Anger can propel us forward and get us up on our feet to stand for what is True, Just, and Good. But once we allow anger to begin using us we have opened the doors of our souls to resentment, which is soon followed by bitterness. This is why St Paul said, “In your anger, do not sin.” Once anger is in the driver’s seat of our emotions there is no way not to sin: to lash out in cruelty, to harbor feelings of resentment, to be infected with bitterness.

My experience is that we usually handle the unexpected disappointments, upsets, and perceived injustices far better than the daily load of tolerable ones. That we were robbed of a happy childhood by clueless parents is endured because “It wasn’t their fault, such-is-life, and I need to move on.” The fact that we have been reciting this same sentence for 20 years says that we really have never moved on. So, all these years, the tolerated disappointment and its accompanying low-grade resentment have been draining our souls of life, love, and joy—of God’s grace for us—and slowly but surely bitterness began seasoning our every experience.

Paul, again: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor (shouting matches) and slander (defamation, spoken or written) be put away from you, along with all malice (the desire to cause harm).” I think the fact that these breaches of the laws of love are placed together is very telling. They all feed upon each other, each egging the other on.

Gratefully, he tells us how to resist or, if need be, to rid ourselves of these debasing attitudes and diseased behaviors.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” “But I have every right to…” “Didn’t you see what she did?” “Do you know what he cost me?”  “I deserved …” “They didn’t do what they promised to.” “He needs to pay…” All swallowed up in: Uh, excuse me. Let’s go back over all that God in Christ has forgiven you. Now. Go do for others what He did for you.

Forgiving others means that we tear up the IOUs we are holding against them

Forgiving others keeps us from bitterness, wrath, clamor, slander, and malice

Forgiving others keeps our souls open to God’s grace and healing

Forgiving others has within it the memory of all that we were forgiven

CS Lewis wrote, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”  True enough. However, isn’t it interesting that when we are the ones standing in need of forgiveness it is, once again, a lovely idea? But Christ’s lovely idea of forgiveness insists that we pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Bitter people are graceless because they cannot receive what they will not give.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2014

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