The Battle for your Bitterness: Understanding Hurt and Forgiveness


I have always liked milk. Of course, I like it best when it has cereal or Oreo cookies in it. I like it with my popcorn. I have even been known to indulge in its tantalizing cousin, ice cream (especially when smothered with caramel, chocolate, nuts, and whipped cream).

One time, though, I took a big swig of milk that just about made me puke (pardon the expression, but it’s true).

Have you ever experienced the joy of sour milk? Believe me, you don’t want to. Its sweet taste turns to something sharp and bitter that will turn your stomach. Some people have found uses for it, but if I find it, it’s going down the drain.

Unfortunately, I have known people that are like sour milk. Even Christians! That is sad, because most folks expect Christians to be sweet, kind, and loving. It is therefore shocking to them when they find us to be bitter.

As believers, we have been transformed into a new person. A new person responds to things differently.

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

The word “bitterness” means acridity. Just like spoiled milk, it has an unpleasant taste. Bitterness has no place in the life of a Christian.

A while back we mentioned that if we want to overcome anxiety and depression, we need to change the way we evaluate our circumstances. The same is true for bitterness.

How do you evaluate what goes on around you? Do you feel like you deserve to be bitter because of the unfair circumstances that life has handed you?

When I think of someone who seemed to have every right to be bitter, one name comes to mind – Joseph. As we look at his life, we will learn some things that will help us in our battle.

Before we take a look at his experiences, let’s sneak a peek at “the end of the book.” Joseph stood before his brothers who had treated him so wrongly and announced, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20 NKJV).

What was so incredible about this statement? Let’s back up several years and see just what Joseph’s brothers did to him.

While Joseph experienced some difficult situations, he never became bitter. His reaction shows that it is not our circumstances that make us bitter, but how we evaluate our circumstances.

The first lesson that we learn from Joseph is that getting hurt is just a part of life. There’s not much we can do about that.

Understand that hurt is a part of life

If you entertain the notion that you can get by in life without hurt, then you need to get your head out of the clouds. Look the pain inflicted on Joseph:

  • His brothers hated him because of jealousy (Genesis 37:4)
  • His brothers stole his beloved coat and sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:25-31)
  • Potiphar put him in jail because of a lie (Genesis 39:7-20)
  • The butler forgot about him (Genesis 40:23)

Joseph was done wrong in so many ways. If he had kept a journal of his feelings, what do you think it might have said?

At each point in his tumultuous life, Joseph had a decision to make. How would he deal with this hurt? He had a choice to make. He could forever hold it against the perpetrators, or he could forgive.

You will also have to make that decision. However, before you do, it would be helpful to understand what forgiveness is.

Understand the nature of forgiveness

Let me put it simply: forgiveness is not forgetting.

Did you get that? Forget about forgetting. You can’t do it! Forgiveness is not failing to remember, but failing to remember a sin against someone.

Forgiveness is also much more than simply saying, “It’s OK”.  No, it’s not OK.  If it was OK, you wouldn’t have to be offering forgiveness!

Let me put it this way: forgiveness is recognizing the fault but surrendering the right to retaliation.

Sandra Wilson, in her book Hurt People Hurt People, points out that people want “anointed amnesia with a lifetime guarantee.”[i] In other words, as long as they remember, they cannot let it go.

Joseph recognized that his brothers meant their actions for evil. However, he did not return the evil to them.

By nature, we want to give others what they deserve. When we reach the end of “Cinderella” we want the fairy godmother to zap the wicked stepsisters with her magic wand. We want the villain in the black hat to be banished from Dodge City forever.

After all, they deserve it, right?

Of course they do. When someone hurts us, they are indebted to us. Forgiveness is wiping away the debt.

Hey, isn’t that what God did for us? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard preachers claim that God doesn’t remember our sin. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t know of any place in the Bible where God gets amnesia. He knows about our sin but consciously decides to remove the eternal (not temporal) consequences. That is real forgiveness.

Once you understand what forgiveness is, the time comes to make the decision whether or not you will offer it. That will be the subject of the next section.

This is the sixteenth post in the “Battle for Your Mind” series. Click here to view the previous post.

Click here to view the next section: The Battle for Your Bitterness: Making the Decision to Forgive.

[i] Wilson, Sandra D. Hurt People Hurt People: Hope and Healing for Yourself and Your Relationships. (Grand Rapids: Discovery House Publishers, 2001), 99.

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