Bitterness is a major cause of grieving the Holy Spirit. Paul admonished us to not
grieve the Holy Spirit of God. EPHESIANS 4:30–32
Any sin—when being committed—seems somewhat justified at the time. We sweep the filth under the rug in order to carry on. But bitterness is possibly the greatest deceiver of all. Talk about something that seems right! Bitterness always has a cause—some grievance or injustice. Whether it be from imperfect parents, abuse, being lied about, being cheated on or being let down by someone you fully trusted, we all seem to have fairly strong reasons for feeling bitter and holding a grudge.
I know what it is to feel bitter and feel good about being bitter—and even think the Lord is in my company. I’m sure you do, too. It can take years, or only seconds, but eventually each of us has to face these hard truths: Because of our bitterness, the Dove has quietly flown away. And often we must also admit that the bitterness was not warranted after all.
That’s not to say that we didn’t have been a cause. You may have been betrayed or lied about by someone whom you trusted. Maybe another Christian—even a parent—has deeply hurt you. Perhaps some friends are distancing themselves from you because they feel they no longer need you. There are many circumstances where bitterness can creep in. You may even think at the time the hurt happens that you are quite right to be angry.
Mary was angry with Jesus! She demanded, “Son, why have you treated us like this?” (Luke 2:48). Jonah was angry with God for not vindicating his prophecy that Nineveh would be destroyed. But the Lord asked Jonah, “Have you any right to be angry?” (Jon. 4:4). The answer was no.
Like it or not, the Dove will not adjust to us. If we want the Dove to remain, we must adjust to the Dove. This means totally forgiving those who hurt us. I believe the Lord’s Prayer has made liars out of more people than any document in human history! Jesus told us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). But does that make God responsible for what we say and do? No. We must adjust to the Dove and mean it when we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” A friend of mine has often said, “There is no forgiveness to the one who does not forgive.”
When I pray to be forgiven, I am asking God to let me off the hook. When I, in turn, say that I have forgiven those who owe me, I have let them off the hook. When I pray sincerely, the Dove sweetly returns.
At the end of the day, all bitterness is ultimately directed toward God. We may say we are not bitter at God, but when we analyze our thoughts, we have entertained one of the following thoughts: Why doesn’t God deal with this horrible person? Or, Why did God allow this person to do this? In other words, we want to know: How could this thing happen to me? It happened because God let it happen. He could have stopped it, but He didn’t. Therefore, without trying to understand the plan of God, we blame Him—just as Mary and Jonah did.
R. T. Kendall, Sensitivity of the Spirit: Learning to Stay in the Flow of God’s Direction (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2015).