Growing up in an itinerant minister’s home allowed for many interesting experiences. I spent a lot of time listening to experienced and older pastors talk with my dad. I remember my dad saying many times after being around an older pastor, “I pray as I grow older I don’t become either soft or hard.” By that he meant, he didn’t want to become theologically liberal to satisfy those that want that theology. But at the same time, he didn’t want to become cynical and bitter.
I’ve thought a lot about this idea of being bitter or cynical. I see it in teenagers and older adults. I see it in middle aged men and working moms. I see at times in myself. Colossians 3:19 tells husbands not to be bitter against their wives, then an even more poignant passage is the warning about Esau (Hebrews 12:14-17) who let a root of bitterness grow in his life because God “wronged” him by choosing Jacob, the younger brother, to be in the line of Christ. The author’s comment is that Esau’s bitterness is associated with defiling many people. When one even does a cursory study of Esau’s descendants one will not find a godly one, ever. Esau’s progeny constantly opposed spiritual people. Doeg kills the prophets of Nob, I Samuel 22:18-19. Hamann, who attempts to destroy Israel in the book of Esther, is an Amalekite, a direct descendant of Esau. Finally, the most famous Edomite is Herod who attempted to kill Christ.
Bitterness has been said to be the “poison pill we swallow” hoping someone else will die. Bitterness is anger turned inward. Anger is the emotion of the unfulfilled expectation of fairness. Biblically unresolved anger, over time, leads to bitterness. God exhibits anger at the wicked simply because it is unfair for the wicked to spurn the goodness of God in salvation. However, God’s anger is never sinful because He is the ultimate judge of what is fair and unfair. Because we are made in the image of God, we have a built in “fairness” detector placed there by their Creator.
However, as humans our problem is that we are depraved. Our “glasses” that we see fairness through is often distorted by our selfish depravity, much like a microscope or telescope distorts the size and shape of what one sees when looking through the lens.
A microscope makes something small, big. Many issues that we want to make out to be big, really aren’t. My daughter calls them, “drama llamas.” They view the world through the lens of the little things and then blow them out of proportion. If people don’t join in with their drama, then they feel they are unloved. As they revel in the self-pity of not being “loved,” they slowly develop bitterness. After all, Hebrews’ author compares bitterness to a slow growing root. When one does not resolve anger biblically, it devolves into bitterness. It’s a root. It grows slowly, but does massive damage.
A telescope takes far away objects and brings them up close. Some people are so worried about what “might happen” that they grow angry when others don’t see their concern as important this very moment. Again, the lens of a telescope distorts the actual image by making something far away, seem close.
Others have an “eye” (I) problem. They have a distorted view because they think about themselves all the time. Both people with “high self-esteem” and “low self-esteem,” in reality, think about themselves constantly. John the Baptist’s solution was, “He must increase and I must decrease,” John 3:30. It is so easy to fall into this trap.
I have a serious astigmatism. If I lived 75 years ago, I would have those “bottle-cap” glasses. I have what people used to call, “trifocals.” I put my glasses on a normal person’s face and they can’t see a thing. I struggle to see much of anything without them. I have an “eye” problem. However, when I have a spiritual “I” problem, I forget three important items.
We forget that God is in control. He will never allow anything to happen to me, as a believer, that will deter Him from His primary plan for me and that is Christ-likeness, Romans 8:28-29. Whether it’s Joseph unjustly sold by his brothers into slavery and then imprisoned for no legitimate reason, to David being chased by an evil king, or Paul’s prayer for the removal of his thorn in the flesh and God’s unwillingness to do so, God’s sovereignty is always working for my good, even if that “good” is often very uncomfortable. God’s goal is a conforming life, not a comfortable lifestyle. God’s goal is holiness, not necessarily happiness.
We forget that we are to be like Christ. He gave up the independent exercise of His divine attributes when He came in human form (Philippians
2:5-11.) We tend to focus on the death and resurrection and ultimate exaltation of Christ in this passage, but the incarnation is every bit as amazing as the crucifixion and resurrection. Christ, who created worlds and systems that we don’t even vaguely understand, willingly gave up His ability to exercise all those attributes of divinity. He trusted the Father to restore Him to His rightful seat in Heaven after the resurrection. Paul begins this section in Philippians with the admonition that we should have the same mind as Christ. We shouldn’t hold on to our “things,” Christ didn’t. Those things may be our pride, our children, our reputation, our position, or actual possessions. Christ didn’t hold on to rightful privileges of divinity. How less should we hold on to things that are only loaned to us for a while? I like this old saying, “if you want to see a person’s god, find out what they get most angry and bitter about.” In modern America, the god of most moms it’s their kids. For most men, it’s their “down-time.” For most teens and kids, it’s to see how much they can get away with. We tend to substitute gods for God and get angry when anyone touches that god.
We forget that Satan is a liar. Jesus associates false religious moralists when their father, the Father of lies, in John 8:44. It is easy to listen to the Prince of Darkness and not speak biblical truth at his lies. He says, “no one loves you.” God says, “For God so loved the world that He gave…,” John 3:16. He says, “You better get what you can because no one else will give you anything.” Jesus says, “Take my yoke…,” Matthew 11:29-30. Satan says, “If your wife disrespects you, don’t talk to her until she crumples.” Christ says, “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church…,” Ephesians 4:25. Lucifer says, “He doesn’t care about all the work you do, seek revenge through condescending tones.” Christ says, “If your enemy is hungry feed him…,” Romans 12:20 and again, “do not avenge yourselves…,” Romans 12:19. The Devil says, “Your parents are hypocrites so you can do whatever you want.” The Lord says, “Children obey your parents…,” Ephesians 6:1. Ultimately the Evil One says, “You will be like God…,” Genesis 3:5. God says, “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die,” Genesis 2:17.
THE LIE that Paul refers to in Romans 1:25 as THE lie that mankind believed was exchanging worshiping God, Himself, to worshiping man’s own creation of deity, whether it is animal, celestial, or ultimately, himself. This lie is you can be “god” and be the independent source of your decisions, based on your feelings, thoughts, and experiences.
My journey of faith has been to begin to call Satan out on being a liar. I can easily fall into all the above-mentioned sins and the list is frankly could easily be quite a bit longer. But when I walk in faith that God is sovereign, I’m to be like Christ, and Satan is constantly lying to me, my journey becomes easier. It doesn’t mean it is without pain or disappointment, but it becomes easier.
Satan is the father of lies. People will disappoint you. People will be unfair to you. Life will be unfair. Unfairness is the result of sin. I’m unfair to others and they in return are unfair to me. But when our response to unfairness allows us to be our own god, believe the lies of Satan, and respond as Lucifer would have us respond, we are, in essence, digging our own grave as well as our descendants’ graves in the cemetery of bitterness.
My prayer as I age is the same as my father’s. I never want to get soft or hard. Rejecting Satan’s lie and walking under the Spirit’s control is a constant challenge to my faith.