"Pretty," is an understatement. Glacial peaks jetted into a sky so blue you could almost swim in it. Glaring against the sun I wanted to sprint across those vibrantly grassy hills glinting from clear, icy streams trickling around granite rock and sing at the top of my lungs like Julie Andrews in Sound of Music... and I have a deathly fear of singing alone in public.
What I found unique about this trip, was the way life resided among death on the same trail. There were mountain goats, deer, gophers, and, thankfully, all very much alive. There were pine trees, berry bushes, disidous trees and dozens of species of plants I couldn't even begin to name. Among all of this vibrancy and life, there was the occasional snag. A dead tree just as tall as the rest, white as bone, without a leaf to be had and even stripped of most of its bark. For the sake of science, or so I told myself, I'd climb up to wherever it was and give the tree a good shove, just to see if it would fall over. More often than not that tree was so deeply rooted in the earth it didn't even sway.
Several questions entered my mind: How could there be so much green, so much life, in this spot, and there be a single dead tree? How could something so dead be so sturdy?
What's interesting about trees is they can live for hundreds of years, long after they appear dead to us. The oldest bristlecone pine is described as "a gnarled jagged piece of deadwood ... overlaid on one side by a narrow strip of living bark barely sufficient to connect the few remaining living roots with its few remaining living branches. Yet every year the sap rises" (Feininger, 1968). As I stared at this "dead" snag in particular, I considered the elements it faced staring at the lake below and the jagged peaks across the water, the wind whipping across its path both shaking it's roots and causing it to burrow deeper into the earth.
Isn't that what happens to us when we face harsh conditions? The elements strip us of our pretty exerior, but we're easily overlooked because we're surrounded by those who are healthy. When a tree dies, it's usually caused by a change in the soil where the roots are. Increases in saturation, flooding, landslide, etc. What happens to the roots is what eventually leads to the tree's death. We're not much different.
Hebrews 12:15 says, "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;" That kind of bitter root causes the tree, or ones spirit, to die. Much like the dead snags I saw hidden among the lush vegetation, we too can become lost in the vibrancy of the lives being lived around us. We're living, but we're locked so deep inside that we have nothing to give. Forget fruit, we're stripped of our bark.
Looking at the word "bitter," Webster was pretty generous with all words that can fall under it's umbrella: sourness, agony, nasty behavior, extreme dislike; sharpness, tartness, acrimoniousness, anguish, distress, grievousness, harshness, hostility, pain, sarcasm, venom, animosity, antipathy, belligerence, malice, spite, antagonism, emnity, hate, hostility, resentment... some can be interchangable and the Bible makes it very clear what bitterness can do to a person to change it from a life giving, fruit producing, vital piece of the forest, to another dead snag.
- (Numbers 5:24) And he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain.
- (2 Samuel 2:26) Then Abner called to Joab, "Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?
- (2 Kings 14:26) For the LORD saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel.
- (2 Kings 20:3) "Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
- (Proverbs 5:4) ... but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
- (Proverbs 14:10) The heart knows its own bitterness,and no stranger shares its joy.
- (Isaiah 38:17) Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction,for you have cast all my sins behind your back.
- (Jeremiah 22:10) Weep not for him who is dead, nor grieve for him, but weep bitterly for him who goes away, for he shall return no more to see his native land.
- (Ephesians 4:31) Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
- (James 3:14) But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
The apostle Luke (doctor and dedicated investigative journalist - basically) once said to repent of bitterness. (Acts 8:21-23) Why? Bitterness is a sin. You're harboring hatred in your heart for and against someone and how you feel on the inside for them directly affects the actions you have toward them. Do they deserve your bitterness? Most likely. Bitterness is only caused when you're wronged by another, so you're likely entitled (according to the world). How about you? Do you deserve Jesus' judgment, his bitterness? Think about all the ways you spit in his face. The difference is, Jesus decided to not only forgive you, but to die for you too - before you were even born and make the decision whether you'd accept his gift or not.
We all sin, because we are sin (Romans 3:10-14). There's only one way to become entirely pure, and it's a goal we will never obtain because Jesus is the only one capable of living without sin (Psalm 119:9; Hebrews 4:15). A bitter person harbors that anger, hatred, malice, etc. inside and it strips them of all beauty, fruit bearing capabilities, and it consumes them entirely. Consider the dead snag.
What you can do about your bitterness, is give it to the God who can carry it and turn it into something worthwhile. When it's handed over to God, he takes it off of your shoulders and works a miracle. (Psalm 103:2-5,8-13). Perhaps turn you from that deadened snag, rooted so deeply in your ways, convinced there's no other way to live, and bring you back to life.