Bitterness or Righteous Anger – How to tell the difference
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)
In numbers of other articles on this blog we have addressed the issue of forgiveness, exposing at least the most common distortions of this subject that plague and burden God’s people. We know that forgiveness entails resolution to not seek personal vengeance, nor to hate one’s enemy. Forgiveness does not, in its fundamental essence, include reconciliation. Nor does it require that we cannot hold wrongdoers to consequences of there sin. But with all of that said, how can we know if our forgiveness is real? Is it possible that we can be harboring bitterness disguised by a facade of “righteous anger”? The answer is, yes we can. So how can we discern a spirit of bitterness from righteous anger?
Let me suggest to you the following test:
If my anger is directed against the Lord, then it is not righteous anger. It is bitterness. Where bitterness exists, you can be sure that it is directed ultimately against the Lord, not just against those who have wronged us.
Consider the Old Testament passage that, no doubt, lies behind Hebrews 12:15 –
Deut 29:18-19 Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike.
Bitterness against the Lord always cools our devotion to Him. It is accompanied by a turning away from the Lord, and ultimately tempts us to go and serve false gods. Beware. This is the real danger of the root of bitterness. Like any root, it doesn’t just stay below ground. It sprouts and bears fruit, and that fruit is not good.
We must be ruthlessly honest with ourselves in applying this examination. You have been abused by evil people. What has been done to you is horrible. Justice requires that vengeance be taken upon the wicked as long as they refuse Christ. It is not sin to pray for vindication and justice to be done. But, let us beware. If our anger is turned against the Lord, then we have crossed into unrighteousness ourselves and are on a dangerous path.