The Root of Bitterness
See to it that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. Hebrews 12:15
Bitterness is complex. It is never a tidy ordeal. Rather, it is messy. Bitterness comes with a history – usually a complicated one. Bitterness is never isolated. It doesn’t just affect the heart of the individual, but “defiles” many others involved. Hebrews 12 describes bitterness as a “root.” Its a glimpse back to Deuteronomy 29:18, “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.” The root of bitterness is contrasted with the root of faith, which, according to Hebrews 6:7, “producing a crop, useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated.” The contrast is a sharp one. Below are a few observations as to what is the essence of the distinction between the root of bitterness and the root of faith:
- The root of bitterness prizes personal rights as ultimate. Things which the individual believed were rightfully theirs has not been given to them or has been taken away. These rights have taken the throne of their affections and the individual will lash out with hatred when these rights are threatened. The root of faith does not minimize the importance of rights, but does not prize them as ultimate. Faith can guard against responding in hatred because their rights do not own their affections, but rather Christ is the ruler of their affections and the Gospel has instructed their responses to difficult circumstances.
- The root of bitterness idolizes justice. Justice is the first response to any trespass against them. Since their personal rights own their affections, anyone who violates their rights will pay for it. They will hold their sin against them. The root of faith rejoices in mercy. Those who rejoice in the fact that their sins have not be held against them cannot require payment for the sins committed at their expense.
- The root of bitterness only trusts what they can control. Bitterness looks to control every life circumstance for their sinful cravings. Yet, when they no longer feel as if they are in control and circumstances turn grievous, they ultimately become bitter towards the one who has full control. The root of faith happily trusts in God’s sovereign goodness. Faith trusts that God is sovereign over all circumstances and is fully aware of how it affects his children. Faith trusts that God is good and works all things out for the good of his people. God’s sovereignty and goodness is good news for the Christian who is suffering in grievous circumstances.