How to Overcome Bitterness: For Your Own Health and Peace

Research suggests constant bitterness can have negative effects on our physical health. Bitterness may predict adverse changes in metabolism, immune system function, and organ function.  

The Bible tells us the same.

But overcoming bitterness can be hard.  Maybe you’ve tried everything to get past the hurt.

Efforts at biblical reconciliation may or may not have been fruitful but they definitely aren’t satisfying.

You’re just really angry and can’t let it go. You can’t let it go because what happened wasn’t right. In fact, it’s downright wrong.  In this video, John Piper says that’s true— and deadly.

So he offers three suggestions on getting past the hurt and bitterness.

First, admit that the bitterness has a hold on you.  The bitterness is not a figment of your imagination, it’s real and it’s deep. Don’t bury it, acknowledge the problem.

Second, pray about it. Ask God to take the bitterness away.

And finally, what Piper calls his primary point, trust the promises of God. That promise comes from Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”

Piper say that is “a tailor made, blood-bought promise.”

The promise is that God will lift from you the suicidal load of vengeance and carry it to the cross or to Hell and “you can’t improve on either of those.”

If the load goes to the cross, it’s been handled by the grace of God.  Refusing to forgive what God has forgiven dishonors God. And his death canceled out every sin ever committed.

If God’s vengeance is handled in Hell, it’s a torment that is eternal.  Piper said that’s why Hell is an important reality.

But while you’re leaving vengeance to God, there are some steps you need to take.  Piper lists three: stop reading those letters that bring back the hurt,  stop going to the place where the harm happened, and stop the cycle of thoughts that keep coming back robbing you of your trust in God.

Dustin Neeley of the Acts 29 Network has a few other suggestions for erasing bitterness:

  1. Take it all to Jesus.  We need to follow the example of the psalmists and take all of our emotional rawness before God. He already knows what is in our hearts, and the deep confession of both our sin and our hurt will lead to deep healing.
  2. Forgive the offending party even when they don’t ask to be forgiven. It is a biblical command to forgive those who have wronged us in light of the good news that we, ourselves, have been forgiven. As we depend upon God to do this, we will experience his power in a profound way.
  3. Filter the experience through the lens of Scripture. It’s easy to preach sovereignty when things are in our favor, but it is equally true in the moments that hurt. As we walk through the process, we begin to see that even these offenses have a purpose in God’s process of making us more like Jesus.
  4. Pray for the person who hurt you. When we get to this point, we know the gospel is really taking root in our hearts. Sometimes, by God’s grace, this happens immediately. Other times, it may take years. Either way, it is both the example and call of Jesus to us to pray for those who have hurt us. Through his Spirit at work within us, we have the resources we need to fulfill his commands.

When you’ve done all that, thank God for the deliverance that will be yours from the bitterness that is killing you.