The Dreaded “B” Word

12 August 2013, 06:00

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125200_despairDuring the healing process of leaving ATI (or any other legalistic group) and discovering Jesus Christ and His gospel, there is often a very painful transition for individuals as they must face all the lies they believed, lies which are often coupled with a long history of injustices and abuse.

I like to compare this healing process to treating a burn patient. There is the initial pain. The wound burns and, if not treated quickly, could develop infection. Once the initial stage of basic treatment is past, all the dead skin must eventually come off to make way for new skin. This is just as painful, if not more, as the original burn.  Finally, depending on how bad the injury was, the patient endures weeks and months of treatments, therapy, and very delicate treatment of the damaged areas. Perhaps one day the burned areas may regain full strength, but they may not. They may leave the body crippled. At the very least, there will be scarring. A painful reminder of all the suffering.

So whenever I hear any Christian say something like, “I was really hurt by— a cheating spouse, false accusation, unfair job loss, wrong treatment at the hands of another person, etc.” — I almost always hear another well-meaning Christian reply with one or more of the following: “You’re just bitter; you need to forgive your enemy and move on; stop blaming someone else for your problems; you should be on your knees asking God to help you; you need to get over it; read your Bible; etc…” Or something to that effect. And that’s if they’re being nice to you. Sometimes they scream this message to you as if you are the dirt on the bottom of their shoe, implying, “How dare you, a mere mortal, have a serious struggle of some kind?”

I recently engaged in a rather intense discussion of one of the many hot topics Christians love to argue about. Many straw men were thrown. Many heated tempers showed themselves. Everyone involved in the discussion got hit over the head with many different Bible verses, thrown without mercy and with much pride.  I did a bit of that myself, I am ashamed to admit. But when I and several others tried to explain how some of the extreme teachings on this particular topic can actually do more harm than good (and I gave several examples), you would have thought I had suggested devil worship. The dreaded “B” word was thrown, what I call the Christian expletive. Bitter. I’m constantly amazed how that word is everyone’s go-to when they don’t like what they hear.

Dear friends, while I believe that in most cases bitterness becomes sin, I have to ask: Since when is an offender allowed to get away with offending, just because the one he offended became “bitter”?

I also have to ask: Why is it that when a Christian is even just bothered by a wrongdoing, his response is automatically assumed to be bitterness? Many times it is not bitterness that such a Christian is dealing with.

I have given much thought to this topic, remembering many of my own situations of being unfairly accused and judged, and have arrived at two conclusions.

The first conclusion is this: Many Christians use the B word as a cop-out. If they are able to accuse their brother of bitterness, somehow they feel justified in not getting their hands dirty by helping their brother sort out his problem and walk through it. The B word gives them an out, as it were. “I get to walk away feeling spiritually superior because of my discernment of your sad spiritual state, and I do not have to care that someone may have just ripped out your heart and stomped all over it.”  Please note that I believe this to be a subconscious attitude, one that most Christians would adamantly reject if they thought this was their attitude. I am happy to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. )

My second conclusion is this: In light of passages such as Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 that talk about not causing a weaker brother to stumble (which was one of the verses that everyone in that discussion got slapped with), we need to figure out who exactly is our weaker brother. It’s not just a baby Christian, whom everyone seems willing to make allowances for. Weaker brothers include any Christian who is soul-weary and heart-heavy. Any Christian who is exhausted and aching with the things of this life. Christians who have been through the wringer, mistreated, misjudged, and/or actually greatly harmed. (In reality, I just described all of us at some point in our Christian walk.)

However my point is this: Calling your brother or sister “bitter” (even if it is true) is actually a great, terrible stumbling block for that brother or sister. What if someone is hanging onto his faith by his fingernails, and all we choose to do is look down on him and be self-righteous? My friends, this kind of behaviour is becoming an epidemic in the church today. There are many preachers and ministry leaders whom I consider to be various degrees of false prophets, and they have harmed so many of God’s people. We should not be judging one another. We should be bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Sometimes that burden is calling out bad leaders and making them be accountable in whatever way we can. Sometimes that burden is being a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to hear as someone stomps a trail through your carpet, venting to you in a rage because everything has been bottled up for so long, and they must get it out so that they can deal with it. Sometimes that burden is unbearable for all of us.

Of course, I acknowledge that actual bitterness isn’t something to be condoned; it will hurt everyone it comes in contact with. But perhaps we can show our brothers and sisters the same mercy we hope they would show to us if our situations were reversed. I know of one individual who truly is steeped in a dreadful bitterness, and anyone who looks closely can see it. But I also know this individual endured truly horrible things. I have prayed many times that I will never simply use the B word on her in anger or frustration, but if an opportunity comes up, to be as kind and loving as possible in the way I speak to her about it. After all, you draw more flies with honey, and a word spoken in due season is good (Proverbs 15:23).

Consider Naomi in the Old Testament. She asked to be called “Mara” because of the bitterness of her life (Ruth 1:20). The Bible does not indicate that she sinned in acknowledging this attitude. Naomi was worn out. Miserable. So sad. So little hope. “The Almighty hath dealt bitterly with me.” Let’s remember that many of us have been dealt with bitterly, whether the pain came from God or someone else, and show some compassion to our worn out brothers and sisters in Christ. For those of us who are actually bitter and are sinning in our bitterness, let us also remember that “the kindness of God leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4) and “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Let us especially not use that terrible B word to stab each other when we’re already down. Instead, let us “encourage one another in order to stir up love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24) and choose to defeat bitterness instead of simply attempting to identify it and write it off.

Heather was raised in the Advanced Training Institute (ATI) from birth. After years of seeking God through the restrictive confines of the program, hitting rock bottom, and being brought out  of the program by God's intervention, she found God, right where He'd been waiting for her. They started the journey together, going through some very painful times. God sent an incredible, amazing Christian man who had never heard of ATI into her life, and provided some major stability, and a safe place to grow, with tenderness and caring. Heather is grateful for all that God has done for her, and wants to see everyone else escape from the bondage that she didn't know had chained her.
All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.

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