The Cross Sweetens Bitter Waters

Acrid bitterness inevitably seeps into the lives of people who harbor grudges and suppress anger, and bitterness is always a poison. It keeps your pain alive instead of letting you deal with it and get beyond it. Bitterness sentences you to relive the hurt over and over. –Lee Strobel, journalist and author

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. Exodus 15:22-25 (NASB)

Parents send their children off to college to take a step forward in life—not to die. In such circumstances, pastors face a huge challenge to find the appropriate words to comfort and encourage grieving friends and family. Understandably, I too was at a loss when asked by our local university to lead a memorial service for a young man who had overdosed on drugs.

During the service, I used Exodus 15:22-25 as the primary text, explaining that the tree God showed Moses served as a metaphor for the cross. Through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is able to sweeten the bitter waters of our lives.

We All Taste of Life’s Bitterness

I would like to say that only those who disobey God will experience bitter waters. I cannot say that. Simply by nature of the fact that we live in a fallen world, bitter experiences will come even to those who live in total obedience to God’s will. Ever since Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, love and pain have been mysteriously bound. As much as we would like to believe differently, nothing we can think, do, or say will remove death from this side of heaven. Because of the cross, however, the bitter waters of life, however, need not remain undrinkable.

My own experience with bitter circumstances has been anything but minimal, yet as I look back over the course of my life, the waters are no longer unpalatable. It’s not that the memories are gone—I could relive just about every painful episode if I so chose—but that God has done such an amazing work in the emotions of my heart. I no longer see my past as a wilderness wasteland, full of injustice, and lacking in meaning or purpose.

Thankfully, experiencing God’s healing touch is not unique to me. Throughout my life, I have met many other Christians who experienced deep pain but emerged as champions over bitterness.

Christ’s Cross Heals the Pain of Trauma

Perhaps no story strikes me as much as Joye’s—a young pregnant woman who was raped at knifepoint by an intruder while her husband was at work. A mere three years later, I heard Joye explain that God had brought such a measure of healing that she felt as though she were speaking of someone else when telling her own story.

What made the difference? How could Joye’s horror turn so fully into inspiration? In a generic sense, we can say that it was a work of God, which would undoubtedly be true. Still, in the midst of her emotional nightmare, Joye made calculated decisions that enabled her to abide in the healing power of the cross.

She began by choosing not to confine herself to a wilderness of isolation. In spite of this man’s self-absorbed actions, Joye chose not to follow suit. Instead, she recognized that there were others who truly cared about her.

I’m sure that many tears were shed as Joye initially shared her painful experience with a few trusted friends, but their unconditional love soothed her distressed soul. She knew that isolating herself from human conduits of God’s love would have been a grave mistake. In a very real sense, in spite of her struggles, every step Joye made was the result of a decision to focus on and trust in God’s goodness, fully yielding to His healing touch.

The Power of Forgiveness

Joye and her husband John also chose to forgive the assailant. Yes, they went through a wide range of expected emotions such as sadness and anger; and, yes, it took time to allow such feelings to run their course. But in the end, they chose to let go of their bitterness, resting in full confidence that our heavenly Father is more than able to redeem the fruit of humanity’s self-absorption.

Are the waters of your life bitter? Choose to forgive. Choose to express thankfulness in God’s goodness. Life’s circumstances will never be able to dam the sweet flow of His healing grace that flows from the cross of our risen Savior.

This post is drawn from Chapter Nineteen of Bob’s devotional: Champions in the Wilderness—Fifty-Two Devotions to Guide and Strengthen Emerging Overcomers.