How Do I Cope with Bitterness?

By Wayne Jackson

“Some while ago my husband left me for another woman. I have tried to entertain a forgiving spirit (even though he has never asked for my forgiveness), but at times, especially if I see him in public somewhere, I have flashes of anger and resentment. I feel guilty about this, and I am concerned for my soul. Can you offer any suggestions?”

While I cannot know the facts in your case, my initial impression is that your disposition appears to be generous, and yet your emotions, understandably, are very normal.

One must commend you for your forgiving spirit. Although ultimate forgiveness lies only with God, there is a temperament of compassion and a willingness to forgive that must characterize the truly spiritual person. This is not easy to achieve when one has been wounded deeply, but there will bring a treasure of tranquility to the soul of the person who is able to summon the spiritual toughness to pardon his offenders.

Paul writes of that sort of courageous demeanor for which the conscientious child of God should strive; and note the “two sides” of the “coin,” as emphasized by the apostle.

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing, be put away from you, with all malice: and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32).

If one reflects upon the almost countless sins for which he has needed forgiveness from God, it ill-becomes him to grudgingly maintain an atmosphere of hostility toward those who have offended him (even seriously). Not only is such an uncompassionate attitude hostile to the Lord (cf. Mt. 18:28ff; especially see “wroth,” i.e., “angry” – v. 34), it is a significant detriment to the soul that seethes over past injuries.

Having said that, one would have to be of greater fortitude than most any of us is, not to retain at least occasional and fleeting moments of pain and anger. While “memory” is a great blessing, it can be a library of anguish as well.

The issue, then, is this. The person who would be healthy spiritually must not let former frustrations consume him/her. When moments of rage and bitterness “fly o’er your head, let them not nest in thy hair.” Shake it off, ask the Lord for grace to cope, and move on to things more pleasant upon which to meditate (see Phil. 4:8).

But one need not, in my judgment, be overly burdened for the frailty of having an occasional lapse of frustration over wounds not yet completely healed.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.