Several years ago, there was a shrub growing too close to my front door steps. It was an ugly shrub and it had to go. So, I got my shovel and began to dig the shrub out. The shrub had been there so long that the roots had become very deep and strong. I tugged and dug, but I could not get that root out...
I was thinking about this after my morning devotional today. While reading my Bible, the words "root of bitterness" came to my mind and would not leave. I know when I am hearing from God, so I immediately began to look up scripture to see what the Word of God says about bitter roots and bitterness in general.
"Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; …" Hebrews 12:14-15
I searched the word "bitter" in my favorite online Bible - BlueLetterBible.org. I see that several scriptures refer to bitterness as a curse. I see that Job knew bitterness well. Esau was bitter. The Israelites were bitter. There will be bitterness in the end days. And….there is all that bitterness in between.
Our lives can be spent in bitterness…
In complaining…. As did Job…
"Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Job 7:11
"My soul loathes my life; I will give free course to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. Job 10:1
We may question God:
"Why is light given to him who is in misery, And life to the bitter of soul, Job 3:20
We may blame God:
"As God lives, who has taken away my justice, And the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, Job 27:2
You may have noticed the reference to our soul in these scriptures. That is because your soul is separate from your spirit. Your soul is your mind, your will and your emotions. Clearly these are attributes in the physical. Your spirit comes from God and will return to God. (Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the well. Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:6-7) I clarify this because some people use the terms "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably. This is not so. Bitterness is an emotion, therefore, it would be soulish behavior.
Bitterness can lead to depression:
"Even today my complaint is bitter; my hand is listless because of my groaning. Job 23:2
We can die with our bitterness intact:
Another man dies in the bitterness of his soul, Never having eaten with pleasure. Job 21:25
Yet, the Lord will still contend with you...
So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me. Ezekiel 3:14
Envy is bitterness:
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. James 3:14
Bitterness makes your words bitter:
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, From the rebellion of the workers of iniquity, Who sharpen their tongue like a sword, And bend their bows to shoot their arrows--bitter words, Psalm 64:2-3
But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword. Proverbs 5:4
Bitterness will lead to loneliness - the truth is that people will avoid bitter people…
The heart knows its own bitterness, And a stranger does not share its joy. Proverbs 14:10
I also started thinking about how roots become bitter. A potato is a root vegetable. When harvested at the right time, a potato is light skinned and full of moisture. If neglected long in the ground…or even if left in your kitchen too long, the potato will develop a thick, dark skin. It will be harder and the taste will lean towards bitter. Worst yet….if it begins to sprout, it becomes even more bitter. The carrot is another example. The carrot is a sweet root that will grow bitter if neglected long.
Neglect not your spirit, lest a root of bitterness begins growing in your soul.
So…back to the shrub with the stubborn root…I decided I needed some leverage, so I went to the tool shed and retrieved a pick axe. I wedged one end under the root and shoved with all my might. It would not budge. So, thinking I could make it work, I started jumping on the other end of the pick axe. It broke that hard root and flipped the pointed end into my leg. Oh yeah…that was nasty and required a trip to the emergency room. I still have a scar some 30 years later to remind me that there most surely must have been a better way to remove that root. People can get hurt from strong roots.
I did not have to think long about why the Lord wants me to focus on roots of bitterness. Recent events have caused me to feel some bitterness and rejection and put a general "stink" in my spirit. Today, NOW, I reject those thoughts and feelings. I reject the root of bitterness.
Like that shrub root, I may not be able to get the entire root out at one time, but I know that, with God's help, I can bury the root and watch for shoots coming off the root. Then, the same as I did with the shrub root, I will destroy those shoots before they grow strong. Eventually, the root will die…
After this study, I whispered to the Lord…."I already knew this, Lord. Have I not seen firsthand the devastation left in the wake of bitterness?" He whispered back to me… "Yes, my child, but you needed reminding."
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. Ephesians 4:3