Bitterness is a strongman of the enemy. Just as there are ranks of angels (like in the armed forces), there are also ranks of fallen angels and demons. Bitterness is a high-ranking evil spirit, but it comes in so subtly and so gradually that we’re unaware that we have even strayed into the enemy’s territory. Here’s how it all works:
Unforgiveness – It all starts with unforgiveness. Someone hurts you. They say or do something that hurts you. You must understand that people were not made to hurt, betray, or be mean to each other. It is not in our original design. But under the influence of the demonic voices all around us, we can inadvertently say or do something that hurts another person.
You are probably not even aware of it, but there are voices speaking to us all the time. There is the voice of God, and there is the voice of the enemy—and we don’t even realize that we are listening to the enemy and being influenced by him. So when someone says or does something to hurt you, they are acting on what they are hearing from the enemy.
Then you respond, acting on what you are hearing from the enemy. The enemy says, “How could she say that about me?” and you repeat it as if it was a thought born from your own mind: “How could she say that about me?”
Every time you think you might be over the hurt, the enemy reminds you of it so that you have a very hard time getting over that hurt. Unforgiveness is a small spirit, but now that it has been welcomed into your heart, it becomes very hard to forgive.
Resentment – Then resentment joins unforgiveness. Under resentment’s tutelage you vow never to speak to that person again, to never allow that person to hurt you again.
Retaliation – The spirit of retaliation goads you into getting some satisfaction for the hurt you’ve suffered. Retaliation promises to feel so good, but in fact can get you into a whole lot of trouble. Retaliation actively seeks to prevent blessing from coming into the offender’s life. Now, ask yourself, who exists to prevent blessings from coming into people’s lives?
Anger, Wrath, & Murder – When unforgiveness is finally joined by its bigger, stronger brothers, it is very difficult to go back and forgive. Of course, not all unforgiveness ends in physical murder, but it can often end in character assassination. We’ve all heard of an unforgiving father say to his son: “You’re dead to me.” In his mind, the father has murdered the son, and the relationship is as good as dead from then.
People think that negative emotions, such as anger, depression, and unforgiveness, are merely emotions. In fact, they are not emotions at all. They are demons that can be cast out or sent away. I have suffered lengthy very profound bouts of depression. I was unaware that depression was a spirit at the time, but during the worst depressions I suffered suicidal thoughts and even suicidal hallucinations that I knew were not originating from my own mind. I wasn’t possessed, but rather, I was suffering terrible demonic oppression.
Bitterness wants to produce fruit in your life: hatred, cruelty, revenge, self-pity, hypocrisy, jealousy, competition, frustration, and confusion. Yes, even a little thing like competition, which American culture says is healthy, is in fact a foothold for the enemy. Think about how many times you’ve seen someone get frustrated that the game didn’t go their way, and they turn the board over, scatter the cards everywhere, or they let the game’s physical side become too violent.
Self-pity is not an emotion, it’s a spirit. It brings thoughts of entitlement—entitlement that has been violated. Once we become aware of the enemy’s tactics, we can guard ourselves from jumping to the enemy’s camp. I don’t want to give the enemy even the smallest victory over myself.
Bitterness can be present in your life without you even being aware of it. And once this process is begun, it is very difficult to reverse it. Sometimes you will have lived under the influence of bitterness for such a long time that you might not even believe that you are bitter.
Let me show you how bitterness can enter in: the offender, under the influence of the enemy says or does something that is truly wrong, evil, and bad. The spirit of bitterness has been standing by, and takes that moment of offence to push its way into your heart. Were you wronged? Absolutely. That is how the enemy works: by pushing his way in. There’s no waiting for an invitation. When you’re at your most vulnerable, he pushes his way in and begins speaking poisonous thoughts to you, playing on outrage, embarrassment, humiliation, hurt pride, physical suffering, violated boundaries, etc. You believe these thoughts to be your own, when they are not. And thus, piece by piece bitterness builds until it has become anger. Anger can be so strong and so swift that it is literally just a heartbeat away from murder.
Forgiveness is a decision, not an emotion. You can decide to forgive. And that decision takes follow-through. There were some people in my life that I have had to forgive all over again every time they came to my mind. And I always did so, hoping for the day when that decision to forgive would finally become an emotional fact. But true forgiveness did not come until I went back (in my mind and memory) to the time of the offense and forgave it there. In that final act of forgiveness, I had to consciously give up all my rights to be angry or outraged at the offense. The next time that person came to mind, the thought that came almost reflexively into my mind was: how could she possibly have known how precious I am to God? My only feeling toward her, even remembering what she had done to me was pity that she hadn’t known how precious I am to God.
Forgiving was made easier once I understood the enemy hiding behind the person used to hurt me. In truth, I have also been used by the enemy to hurt other people. When you truly can grasp the realities hidden from our eyes, it becomes so much easier to give people the mercy and grace that we hope for from them, too.
Giving in to a spirit of bitterness or forgiving as generously as God has forgiven us is a life-changing decision. Bitterness can prevent blessings in your life. And through bitterness, the enemy might use you to prevent blessings in the lives of others. Worse than all that, it can bring curses, especially in the form of physical illness. Anger, hatred, and bitterness go coursing through your veins like a caustic, like poison. If you’re aware, you might even feel it burning in your veins.
Giving up your right to be angry at an offense can feel like dying to yourself—in fact, that’s exactly what it is. But you won’t truly begin to live until you do die to yourself. It’s part of God’s upside-down logic that turns the world’s logic on its head. Why is it so hard? Because you are making a frontal attack on your own pride.
Make a decision to begin seeing people the way God sees them—ask God to help you to see people the way He sees them. You will find that you have more love and mercy for them, and forgiveness will flow easier and easier. More than that, blessings will flow in your own life as never before.
So let go of your anger and bitterness! God is good!