Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. -Ephesians 4:31
"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall."
Early in my Christian life, this lament of Jeremiah rose off the page to smite me on the cheek. I well understood that, in my life at least, the affliction and wandering proceeded from the bitterness.
I recalled that bitterness had poisoned my relationships, especially those with women. I recalled the bitterness of spirit with which I left behind the church family in which I had been raised.
As God began to grant me understanding, I often puzzled over the several passages in which the sins of the fathers are said to be visited upon the children. Each is responsible before God for every deed done in the flesh, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14). How could these things be reconciled?
Then I began to read about spiritual warfare and the word "stronghold" came up. A place in my own heart from where the devil, entrenched among evil thoughts and attitudes, could sally forth to defeat me time and again.
I cannot say how the significance of this word could have escaped a lifelong student of military history. Only one mention of it in the New Testament, but what a powerful statement!
Strongholds were something to be demolished, torn down without mercy and only through God the Spirit's power.
Then I began to read about generational strongholds and the confusing passages about the sins of the fathers became clear.
How well I recognized those traits, both good and bad, I inherited from my parents. That they inherited from their parents.
How could we not absorb the atmosphere in which we have been raised? But the real question is this: Are we not to be struggling constantly to put off the old and clothe ourselves with the new?
Having been convicted by the words of Jeremiah, I leapt at the opportunity to be rid of this affliction. For such it was, and I thank God daily for the Spirit by Whose power I am able to overcome this and my many other sins.
But especially bitterness, which I am taught wells up out of an unforgiving heart. What right have I, who have been forgiven much, to withhold forgiveness for any piddling and trivial offenses with which I have allowed myself to be wounded?
For, make no mistake, in light of our cosmic rebellion against the One who made us, even the most grievous of wounds we can inflict upon each other are indeed light and momentary.
To forgive, as Shakespeare noted, is divine. For how else but by God's power could I overcome my innate self-centeredness and overlook what is essentially carelessness on the part of others? Or to put it more directly: their failure to love me as much as I love myself.
The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). A necessary part of this is conviction of sin. Our goal (our constant struggle) is to be rid of all those things in us that come between us and God. We will attain this goal in the life to come.
In the meantime, the battle continues. Odd, isn't it that we should experience joy in the midst of that battle?
I will not let an angry, unforgiving heart rob me of that joy. Will you?