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Bitterness Poisons the Soul

Learn about the factors that cause us to experience bitterness and how we, as Christians, can overcome it.

It has been said that bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. In a 2015 Psychology Today article, Dr. Leon Seltzer wrote that bitterness can lead to lasting anxiety or depression. It can hamper daily life and infect relationships. What causes bitterness, and how can Christians overcome it?

Bitterness and resentment typically are the result of unresolved hurt or anger. Causes run the gamut from the traumatic to the trivial. The pain of an abusive relationship or the betrayal of a loved one can lead to resentment. Being passed over for a promotion at work or getting snubbed by a friend might also bring about feelings of bitterness.

The best way to address bitterness and resentment may be to prevent them in the first place. In Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul warns believers not to sin by letting anger control them and not to let the sun go down on their anger, because “…anger gives a foothold to the devil.” Since unresolved anger can lead to resentment, it makes sense to avoid letting anger fester.

What if bitterness has already taken hold? Experts generally agree those weighed down with bitterness and resentment may find relief by forgiving the person or group responsible. While bitterness can cause anxiety and depression, forgiveness has the opposite effect. According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiving others can lead to improved mental health, less stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and fewer symptoms of depression.

Forgiving is much more easily said than done. It is important to keep in mind forgiveness may not automatically heal years of pain or suffering, and it does not erase the consequences of a person’s misdeeds. Rather, forgiveness is a conscious decision not to be controlled by anger or resentment. Forgiveness can be a starting point for healing.

God sets the ultimate example for forgiveness. Instead of punishing sin, He offers grace and mercy through His Son. As the Roman soldiers nailed Him to the cross and the crowds mocked Him, Jesus Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness may be difficult to extend, but by following the example of Christ and trusting in the power of God, believers may find forgiveness is the ultimate antidote to the poison of bitterness.

David Cox is a freelance writer. He resides with his wife and children in southeast Kansas.

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