Thursday, 07 April 2011 14:33

Are You Bitter at God?

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Some people—yes, even Christian people—become bitter at God. It’s not that He has sinned against them and is in need of their forgiveness. It’s a matter of them mishandling a difficult situation which He has flung on them. In his trial, Job didn’t focus in on secondary causes—the Sabeans, the Chaldeans, the fire which fell from heaven, or the great wind which came from across the wilderness (c.f. Job 1:14–19). Rather, he kept his eyes on the character of God, who for His Own eternal purposes allows human suffering.


After losing almost everything he had, the Bible says:

Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:20–22)

When people are bitter at God, it is usually because of some kind of loss. It could be the loss of good health, of a loved one, of wealth, of reputation, or even of a dream. If we’re not careful, such losses can overshadow our entire outlook and cause us to be overcome with sorrow. And, inordinate grieving can metastasize into bitterness.

Before His death, Jesus gave His disciples some disturbing information. He told them that the days ahead would not only involve considerable difficulty, but that He would no longer be with them. Immediately, their hearts became filled with sorrow. And Jesus rebuked them saying, “Because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart” (John 16:6). The word filled implies a kind of filling that is complete—or, as we might say, to “fill to the brim.” When something is filled that completely, there is room for little else.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of sorrow. In fact, Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Yet, He also had an abundance of peace, joy, and love residing in His heart along with his sorrow. And, Jesus never let His sorrow prevent Him from fulfilling any of His responsibilities—He never allowed His sorrow to become so great that it totally shut Him down or caused Him to sin. He certainly didn’t become bitter. Why? Because He saw God’s purpose in His trial.

The danger comes when we allow our grief to become so great that it overpowers other things in our lives that God says we ought not to let slip—not the least of which is worshipping Him with a heart of thanksgiving. When experiencing heartaches, we can easily allow sorrow to fill our lives to such an extent that we stop thinking about those things that generate love, joy, peace, or any other element of the Spirit’s fruit. Our sorrow must not quench the Spirit’s work in our lives. We ought not to grieve so much that we stop fulfilling our biblical responsibilities. Rather than allowing our sorrow to control us, we should continue to be controlled by the Spirit. To be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) is to be controlled by the Spirit. To be filled with sorrow is to be controlled by sorrow.

“But what if I’ve already allowed my heart to be filled, or almost filled, with sorrow to the point that I’m shutting down mentally and emotionally? What if I have become bitter at God?

Then by the Spirit’s enabling power, you will have to work hard at getting your sorrow back down to a manageable level (and eradicating any bitterness from your heart). First, confess your inordinate grieving and bitterness to God, asking Him to forgive you and to grant you the grace to change your sinful thoughts and ways. Then, begin to formulate the kind of thoughts that will generate the right kinds of feelings. “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things” (Philippians. 4:8). Rather than thinking only of what you’ve lost, think about how God may be using your loss to benefit you. Rather than thinking about how miserable you are, ponder how you can make someone else happy. Rather than worrying about what will happen to you tomorrow, figure out how you can be a blessing to someone today. Instead of grumbling and complaining, praise God for all of the things He has done for you.

Another thing you can do to help get your sorrow under control is to fulfill your biblical responsibilities. Yes, you can do this even though your heart is sorrowful. It may not be easy, and it probably won’t be fun at first. But in time, your mind will be occupied with more noble thoughts than with what you have lost.

Take a few minutes right now to make a list of any responsibilities you’ve been neglecting as a result of being consumed with your loss. Then write out Philippians 4:8. List those things you can meditate on (and thank God for) when you are tempted to think about all you’ve lost. Put this list in your wallet or purse and carry it with you wherever you go. And, the next time you catch yourself murmuring, complaining or inordinately grieving over your loss, pull it out for a quick review. Then, set your mind on thinking or doing something more eternally significant than cultivating a root of bitterness toward the One who has redeemed you and fitted you for heaven.

*This article has been adapted from an appendix in Lou’s booklet entitled Bitterness: The Root that Pollutes published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.


Last modified on Thursday, 26 April 2018 10:33
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