“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred.
It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
― Corrie ten Boom, Clippings from My Notebook
Early one morning, a dense fog rolled in across the fields surrounding our house. This rare occurrence inspired our youngest daughter to venture outside and take pictures. That’s how this dramatic photo of the barbed wire fence that separates our property from our neighbor’s was captured.
When I first saw the image, I thought I would like to write a post about it, but I didn’t have a clue what the topic should be. Later that week, the title “The Barb of Bitterness” popped into my head. I had recently copied some verses into my journal pertaining to bitterness, and they were still fresh on my mind. I wondered if the word “barb” had any spiritual significance, so I looked up its meaning. When I read the definition, an analogy began to form in my mind.
“A barb is a sharp projection near the end of an arrow, a fishhook, or similar item. It’s angled away from the main point so as to make extraction difficult.” ~The Oxford Dictionary.
In other words, it “catches” and deeply embeds itself in the flesh!
Bitterness does that too. It goes in easily, but it is so hard to get rid of! Angled away from the heart of God, a bitter spirit ruins relationships.
Bitterness Defiles Many
Hebrews 12:15 says: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it, many are defiled.”
Who in their right mind would want to fall short of the grace of God? Not me, and I’m sure not you. And yet, that’s what happens when we let bitterness take root in our hearts. We can’t just expect it to stay hidden beneath the surface—out of sight, out of mind—and go about our daily business. It rears its ugly head, one way or another, usually through angry outbursts and unresolved conflict that deprives ourselves and others of the grace of God. That’s why it’s so important to hide verses about the consequences of bitterness in our hearts. Our only true line of defense against a bitter spirit is the word of God.
Bitterness Abuses with Hateful Words
Bitterness is often accompanied by a barb of cutting remarks—angry, hateful words aimed at the heart of another, whether said to their face or behind their back. Once hurled, however, angry words come back to haunt us, driving bitterness deeper.
Ephesians 4:31-32 admonishes us to be kind and forgive one another as we have been forgiven. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
If there is an antidote for bitterness, it is the spirit of forgiveness.
1 Peter 2 says: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”
“The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.” (Psalm 145:8) Can we be any less gracious than the Lord?
Freedom from Bitterness
Before the Lord brought bitterness to my attention, I had never really given much thought to how it takes hold of a heart, but I do know that in the past there were times I succumbed rather quickly to its all-consuming power. At this juncture in my life, however, I don’t want to be a bitter well, poisoning my family and friends; instead, I want to be an extension of God’s grace.
How about you?
We all have many reasons to be bitter each and every day. There are people in our lives who continually let us down or others who try to manipulate us. Or we may be bitter toward God for circumstances we can’t control or won’t accept. But once we become sensitive to the presence of bitterness and its attempt to penetrate our hearts, we will find it easier to reject it, repent of it, and respond to others in the spirit of grace.
I think one of the greatest gifts we can give our families is a heart free from the “barb of bitterness.”