This is the root system of the humble Dandelion.
It develops unseen. It spreads widely and quickly. It has enormous tenacity and resists every attempt at removal (as any gardener will tell you). And if you remove only one section, lopping off the top, then the rest will just develop the more.
And, of course, it’s the chosen analogy for the writer to the Hebrews, when he wished to describe the unseen fingers of bitterness spreading to disfigure the garden of the church.
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many”. (Hebrews 12:14-15)
Bitter roots! Alain de Botton defined bitterness as anger that forgot where it came from.
Look how closely the pursuit of holiness (towards God) is tied up with the pursuit of peace (between people). And what prevents our living together in peace? It’s described as falling “short of the grace of God” and the springing up of “bitter roots… [that] cause trouble and defile many.” Simply put, I fall short of grace when I act in a legalistic way. The old legalism was “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” If wrong has been done to you then it needs repaying in kind.
Payback is mine, says the legalist. There’s no such thing as a bitter person who keeps the bitterness to himself.
But this is far short of grace that Jesus describes: “You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
But what is the “bitter root” that causes “trouble and defiles many”? It is the holding of debts. Sometimes it’s not enough to say “I have forgiven them” with a quick prayer. When we seek to correct a wrong done to us, we sometimes put conditions on it. In our heart we’re still judging it, (“But you know, they SHOULDN’T have done it!”) as if we are still holding a debt, a grudge, or taking the person to court. Even though the case is over, the trial goes on, inside our minds!
The fruit of the Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22, is “love, joy, peace…” If you are producing different fruit (grumpy irritation, bad temper, depression) then you better ask the Lord what is at the root of it. It’s as if we’re still holding on. Still poking at an old wound.
Suzy Kassem writes: “O Heavenly Children, the stories you have concocted in God’s name have angered Him; for he would never instigate war between brothers, or encourage tribes to harbor resentment towards one another. He prefers the man who loves over the one who hates. And the man who spreads kindness, peace and knowledge, over the one who spreads lies, fear and terror — and misuses His name.”
I read of a lady who had left her husband and remarried happily but suffered bouts of depression. In a prayer group, it was suggested to her that she had still not forgiven her first husband. She was, it was suggested, still “demanding payment for an old debt.” Her “demand for payment” consisted of a desire for her ex-husband to stop blaming her and admit his own part in the failure of the marriage. If this wasn’t possible, then her desire to let other people know what he had done wrong flared up to appease her own sense of justice. This was the “debt” she was holding, that she was barely aware of.
Roots are unseen, after all.
This is where we need to ask the Holy Spirit to release us from offence and to dig up that root of bitterness that has grown up. There’s two parts. Our part in confessing our sin of unforgiveness (If you don’t forgive, God wont forgive you) and repenting. Second, a humble asking of God to give us the ability to release the debt we’re holding. And He will.
When Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” He was releasing us for what we had done to Him!
The psalmist prayed “Explore me, O God, and know the real me. Dig deeply and discover who I am. Put me to the test and watch how I handle the strain. Examine me to see if there is an evil bone in me, and guide me down Your path forever.” (Psalm 139)
Francis Frangipane said “Bitterness is unfulfilled revenge.” Bitterness can be produced when revenge is not satisfied to the degree that we desire!
Don’t let that bitter root grow up to cause trouble.