Bitter or Better?

In a Cebuano accent, the sound of the word “bitter” and “better” are interchanged so we could get confused as to what is being referred to. We, however, do want to ensure that we get better, not bitter and not vacillate between the two as though there were no difference.

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Heb 12:15).  A bitter root looks like it is harmless because it is below the surface but unless taken out, it will eventually grow up and bear bitter fruit that defiles (contaminates/pollutes/corrupts) the people around. We don’t want those bitter fruits but they are certainly forthcoming if we do not promptly nip them in the bud.

In the face of pain, especially the continuing kind, removing that bitterness can feel impossible. The following can help in exorcising bitterness:  focusing on the grace that Jesus has given us—the sinners he died for to demonstrate his love (Rom 5:8); asking for the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to let go;  entrusting the offender to the Lord’s almighty and just charge; remembering that only when we forgive are we forgiven (Luke 6:37c); trusting that God’s Word is meant to lead us to the abundant life that Jesus came to give us. (There are related posts: May I Forgive Next Year When I’m Ready?, When Revenge Seems Exquisite, and Is God a Killjoy?)

In Exodus 15:22-26, we see an example of the bitter undrinkable waters of Marah turning to sweet and life-giving when Moses obeyed the Lord in throwing a piece of wood into the water. According to Buckingham, scientifically, the sap of the wood could have brought the mineral contents of the water to the bottom to allow the good water to rise to the top. Some other scholars say that the wood foreshadows the cross of Christ to turn bitter to sweet. His sacrifice on the cross makes possible for those who trust in him as Savior being saved  from being objects of wrath (Rom 2:3) to spending eternity in heaven.

By considering the cross and yielding to the process of being made more like Christ (Rom 8:29), we can remember Jesus’s words in Gethsemane, not for his will but the Father’s be done (Luke 22:42). This exercise is not to trivialize the pain and sacrifice; Jesus himself was in anguish, sorrowful unto death, and his sweat was like drops of blood as he died to self to achieve God’s greater purpose. In our own Gethsemane of yielding our will to God’s which is contrary to ours (like forgiving despite feeling unforgiving, loving despite feeling unloving, etc.) that is painful to our fleshly desires but it is the path that yields to God’s abundance. When God gives a command, it is not based on the other person’s worthiness but on God’s wisdom and love. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me(Gal 2:20). This talks to us about dying to our old sinful selves driven by flesh and instead allowing Christ’s godly character to be manifested in us. Apart from him, we can not do it (John 15:5c) but we can do everything through him who gives us strength (Phil 4:13).

To cap off the bitter Marah waters turning sweet in Exodus 15, the Lord reminds us of the blessing of salvation and healing that comes from obedience:  There the LORD made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, who heals you.” (Exo 15:25b-26)


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