Hebrews 12:14,15 – Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
Bitterness can spring out of many circumstances in life. Probably most come from some sort of disappointment. You don’t have the opportunities you want. You don’t have the relationships you want. You lost someone close to you. Life hasn’t turned out the way you wanted it to. And it has soured you, rusted you out from what was once shiny, new, and optimistic. In some part of your life, standing between you and joy there is this whisp of, “Well, if only X had happened, then things would be good.”
From a human perspective, this is perfectly reasonable. Some barrier has come between you and what you want, and you’re disappointed. However, God knows that this is poison for us, so He tries to head us in a different direction.
The thing is, this disappointment that leads to bitterness can take us to some bad places. The Israelites coming out of Egypt are a good example.
But for three days, as they journeyed, they could find no water. The supply which they had taken with them was exhausted. There was nothing to quench their burning thirst as they dragged wearily over the sun-burnt plains. Moses, who was familiar with this region, knew what the others did not, that at Marah, the nearest station where springs were to be found, the water was unfit for use. With intense anxiety he watched the guiding cloud. With a sinking heart he heard the glad shout. “Water! water!” echoed along the line. Men, women, and children in joyous haste crowded to the fountain, when, lo, a cry of anguish burst forth from the host—the water was bitter. – Patriarchs and Prophets
Now if we’re talking about disappointment, here’s a case where it’s easy to see how they got there. They’re heading out into a wilderness area, where it is not clear where the most precious resource of all is going to come from: water. Their hopes are raised, and then dashed.
However, what they did with their emotion is where they fell short.
And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
The thing is, that hand of the Lord that did those mighty works was the hand that had brought them out of slavery. God had showed them some pretty awesome belief-building things leading up to this point, and they weren’t even that far removed from the red sea crossing.
They let their bitterness separate them from the God that was leading them. God was clearly caring for them, clearly leading them. They could see the pillar of fire at night, and the cloud that kept them covered by day. To lose sight of that, and to not trust that God would make arrangements for their needs was the greatest blindspot they could have.
Seeing this pattern in the story is clear. The thing is, somehow it’s not as easy to see this pattern in our own lives. I know God has done things for me in the past. I know he has led in certain situations. But I get so disappointed when specific areas of my life don’t work out like I want them to. It is very easy to become bitter. For those of us of faith, these can be more of our ‘Why, God?’ moments than an overarching crisis. Trusting God in the day to day can be hard.
Though it’s not supposed to be. The way God has led us in the past should develop trust that he is handling the present and the future. This is what faith is. Seeing what God has done, we can trust what he will do.
Many look back to the Israelites, and marvel at their unbelief and murmuring, feeling that they themselves would not have been so ungrateful; but when their faith is tested, even by little trials, they manifest no more faith or patience than did ancient Israel. When brought into strait places, they murmur at the process by which God has chosen to purify them. Though their present needs are supplied, many are unwilling to trust God for the future, and they are in constant anxiety lest poverty shall come upon them, and their children shall be left to suffer. Some are always anticipating evil or magnifying the difficulties that really exist, so that their eyes are blinded to the many blessings which demand their gratitude. The obstacles they encounter, instead of leading them to seek help from God, the only Source of strength, separate them from Him, because they awaken unrest and repining. – Patriarchs and Prophets
Rather than give in to bitterness, we should celebrate what God has done for us. We should keep in front of us the life he has called us to live in the here and now. These difficulties are opportunities to search after God, and to get closer to Him.
Thus, our story is not defined by what we feel that we are missing out on, but rather on what we are gaining. A life interwoven with God’s.
And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.