The Bitter Root

Photo by Stan Shebs – Creative Commons 3.0 License

Bitter Root. Sounds somewhat natural, doesn’t it? Actually, this Montana state flower was at times prized as a delicacy by some Native American tribes. But not everything natural is good. You can be sure I won’t be buying Poison Ivy Skin Cream any time soon!

The Bible also speaks of a bitter root—one that has a very natural tendency to creep into our lives and poison so much that is good.

The author of Hebrews wrote: “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God, that no one be like a bitter root springing up and causing trouble, and through him many become defiled.” Hebrews 12:14-15 (NET)

The primary context of this passage is illuminated by referencing Deuteronomy 29:17-18. It speaks of the damage caused when a person breaks his sacred covenant with God by turning aside to natural, idolatrous ways in responding to the difficulties of life.

Photo by Krusnade – MorgueFile

We can find several dimensions to the bitter root problem, but I’ll begin by focusing primarily on the most readily apparent—bitterness directed toward those who have somehow harmed us or our loved ones.

A bitter root can linger for a long time beneath the surface of our lives, sometimes scheming, always seething. Unless deliberately killed it will grow and spread, finally breaking the surface with visible expressions of jealously, anger, hatred and more.

I’ve heard it said that, “Holding bitterness in one’s heart is like drinking a deadly poison and expecting the other person to die.” To make matters worse, the bitter person is not the only one corrupted by the poison.

Bitterness isn’t just about 1 or 2 people. A bitter root spreads from generation to generation weaving a poisonous web, entangling and defiling far more people than we care to admit. In many cases, the price paid by ourselves and our loved ones is every bit as great (if not greater) than that paid by the person we are bitter toward.

A bitter person rarely sees (or refuses to see) this perspective. Consumed by their simmering pain, they have little concern or realization of the extreme damage being done to those they care about. As we’ll see in the coming posts, there is never a good reason to stay bitter.

Of course, we can always protest the unfairness of life and embrace our natural desire to hold a grudge. Everyone knows that loving those who hurt us simply isn’t natural. But, neither is Christianity natural. Only as we surrender ourselves to the supernatural love of God will we see the bigger picture and finally put the axe to the deadly root of bitterness.