A Bitter Poison
It's been said that having bitterness toward someone is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Many unforgiving people harbor the hurt from sin committed against them - even if no real sin was - and waste away as a result. Bitterness is the sinful response of the soul to injustice experienced.
In Naomi's case (Ruth 1:13,20), her bitterness turns toward God as she identifies and acknowledges God's sovereignty over all things. Where she comes up short, however, is failing to see God's goodness and failing to trust God's faithfulness. A powerful God who's evil or a sovereign God who's unloving is terrifyingly unbearable. Thankfully, God is good and does good (Psalm 119:68).
"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
but trust Him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face."
God's providence towards Naomi tastes bitter, but He is at work in all things at all times. When Naomi feels alone and unprotected (Ruth 1:5), God brings her an unyielding companion in her daughter-in-law (Ruth 1:16-17). When she has nowhere to go, God gets word to her of Bethlehem (Ruth 1:6). When she faces hunger and need, God shows her his provision (Ruth 1:6). Why can't Naomi see this? Why is she not living out the command the apostle Paul will articulate centuries later: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances..." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)?
In a word...bitterness. Naomi suffered loss and then suffered the cancer of bitterness that festered in her soul.
"...suffering can narrow your life. The pain can be so intense that you become your pain. It doesn't have to, but pain can easily define you. Without realizing it, you can begin to see all of life through the lens of your pain. It can even be hard to accept love. You feel like a black hole, and you don't want people near you." (Paul Miller, "A Loving Life")
In her bitterness, Naomi did not repent of her sin, did not witness to her daughters-in-law (Ruth 1:15), did not see the grace around her, and did not thank God for His goodness toward her.
What's the antidote? How is the root of bitterness broken? The antidote for the poison of bitterness is:
- Confess - God IS good, all the time! Everything's of grace and everything He's doing is for your good and His glory, even if you can't see it or understand. Everything's of grace.
- Repent - Your sin against God is always greater than another's sin against you. Therefore, you are always a debtor. He is never in your debt and you have no entitlement to hold over Him; no rights to demand of Him. He is God and there is no other.
- Rejoice - He has not crushed you for your sins but was crushed for your salvation. Jesus, our Sacrifice, is so supremely valuable that to compare anything in this life - that you have or lost - to him is to count that thing as garbage (Philippians 3:8).
- Forgive - To the degree you understand what God has forgiven you, you will forgive others (Colossians 3:13). Being forgiven means extending forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15).
- Thank - What do you have that you did not receive? If you received it, why would you think you earned it or deserve it (1 Corinthians 4:7)? When you're emptied of your rights, humbled under God's mercy, and postured as a servant rather than expecting to be served, the only (super)natural response is gratitude for grace given. Suffice it to say, gratitude and grace have the same root. The more you see the grace of God around you, the more grateful - thankful - you'll be.
May confession, repentance, rejoicing, forgiveness and thanksgiving serve as the antidote to the poison of bitterness in our souls.