I have a new theory related to why the author of Hebrews wrote,
“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.” (Heb. 12:15)
I think it’s related to the way that bitterness has a way of distorting just about everything that a person hears when they are bitter. I’ve come to realize that when people become bitter, it doesn’t matter how much they say they aren’t bitter or how often they pretend they aren’t bitter. They can do and say those things all day long, yet if the seeds of bitterness have been planted and taken root, those roots go deep and have a hard time coming out. In fact, they go so deep that they begin defiling everyone around them. Those roots actually choke the life out of those around them.
But there’s a cycle that begins to happen: bitterness actually influences the way that people hear things and the way that they interpret those things. So the bitterness actually continues to grow because the bitterness is self-defeating. It just builds and builds and builds. Actually, it goes deeper and deeper and deeper.
Thus, what was offered as an encouraging challenge to consider biblical teaching becomes mean-spirited rejection. What was offered as pastoral care is received as angry manipulation. What was intended as loving correction is interpreted as being arrogant condemnation. It’s absolutely amazing how what was meant for good can be manipulated in the minds of the offended to become something intended for evil. And that cycle continues on and on and on and on… no matter how many churches these people leave or how many times they act like they are “above” that type of control.
What I just realized is that there are people who are bitter towards me (and others!) who I can’t control nor make forgive me. Some of these people were bitter long before I ever came to the church I love and serve. It would seem that my role is to continue to pray for them and to keep preaching the gospel! The Holy Spirit is the only person who can “uproot” such bitterness, bringing happiness and freedom to those people. Sadly, though the fruit of being bitter is both toxic, for those trapped in it’s clutches, bitterness seems to be the only way. But oh the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16)!
So I’ve been really thinking about the need for us to not only be honest with ourselves (and others) but also the need of having consistent “soul checks.” I mean that in the sense of gospel application happening in the mist of the local church with real relationships where we go deep… deeper than the roots of bitterness.
Or we can just attend a church service every couple of weeks and sing a couple songs and avoid relationships by continuing to smile and act spiritual. Of course, one route will bring about radical bitterness uprooting and the other will just continue to water the bitterness to go deeper. Which one will it be?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.