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Many of us tend to brood bitterly in self-pity about real or imagined mistreatment or failures of people around us. This has often been a problem for me, and I am sure for others too.
Consider some Biblical principles about this subject.
Bitterness – resentful or cynical antagonism or hostility
Self-pity – excessive, self-absorbed unhappiness over one’s troubles, especially problems caused because we believe others have mistreated us or acted improperly.
Resentment – bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly
Note that some of the passages we will study may discuss these concepts or give examples without necessarily using these terms.
Other related topics include grief, mistreatment, worry, troubles, suffering, anger, depression, vengeance, and hatred. Much of what we study about this subject should help us deal with these related subjects.
The Bible gives many examples of people who thought about their problems in order to deal with them. But in other cases brooding can become harmful or even sinful.
Like anger and many other practices described in Scripture, thinking about our troubles can be good or bad depending on how we react. So consider with me what we can learn from Scripture about the difference between wholesome meditation and bitter self-pity.
Job 7:11; 9:18; 10:1; 23:2; 27:2; 42:1-6 – Job repeatedly stated that he was bitter because of his suffering. As a result he complained and blamed God for making him bitter. God responded by teaching Job to trust God to do right regardless of whether or not he understood. People who brood over misfortunes often blame God. Or they may fail to trust that God is in charge and will take care of them.
Genesis 27:33-36,41 – Esau was bitter when he learned that Jacob had deceived their father Isaac in order to receive the blessing that Isaac intended to give to Esau. As a result, he hated Jacob and determined that, after their father died, he would kill Jacob. Bitter brooding often leads us to seek vengeance or harm those we believe mistreated us.
1 Kings 21:1-4 – Ahab wanted to buy Naboth’s vineyard, but Naboth refused. So Ahab went home sullen and displeased, lay down on his bed, turned his face to the wall, and would not eat. So self-pity may lead us to pout and feel sorry for ourselves when no one really did us wrong. Eventually Naboth was murdered as a result.
In all of these examples, people did wrong because they bitterly brooded about their problems instead of putting their problems in the hands of God and trusting Him to do right.
In contrast to those whose bitterness led to sin, consider these examples:
Genesis 50:17-21 – Joseph was his father’s favorite son, so his brothers became extremely jealous. As a result, they sold him as a slave to Egypt. Years later, the brothers were reconciled and Joseph forgave them, but the brothers feared that Joseph would still take vengeance.
Mulling in self-pity may lead us to fail to truly forgive even when people repent. This is what the brothers feared Joseph would do. Joseph explained that, despite the brothers’ evil intent, God had used the events for the good of their family. Instead of seeking vengeance, Joseph learned to trust God to do what was best.
1 Samuel 1:6-11 – Hannah was bitter because she had no children and because Peninah made fun of her. As a result she did not eat but grieved. She dealt with the problem by praying to God and seeking a solution according to His will.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – Paul prayed three times for God to remove his thorn in the flesh. But God revealed that the problem actually benefited Paul. God said His strength was sufficient, so Paul accepted that what God allowed was actually for his good.
Matthew 26:37-44 – Jesus faced mistreatment and injustice worse than any of us face. Knowing what lay before Him, He was deeply distressed. In Gethsemane He prayed to God and asked that the problem could be avoided. But if not, He was willing to do the will of the Father.
These examples show there is serious danger in bitter resentment and self-pity. But Jesus and other men of God dealt with mistreatment by praying to God and trusting Him to care for them.
[Acts 4:18-31; Psalm 38:1-8,18-22; 1:1-3; 2 Kings 19:14-19; 20:1-3; John 14:27]
Numbers 11:4-6,10-15 – Israel and Moses: God provided manna the people could simply gather off the ground, yet they complained because they remembered the foods they had in Egypt and they wanted meat to eat. Moses then said he could no longer bear the burden of the people; if it continued, then God may as well kill him.
Moses had justifiable reason to be upset, so God helped him. I do not know that Moses sinned. But the people definitely sinned because they failed to appreciate the gifts God had richly provided. Brooding and self-pity often lead to a lack of gratitude for God’s blessings.
Esther 5:9-14; 6:12,13 – Haman was second-in-command to the king of the Persian Empire. He had honor, wealth, and a large family. Yet he was indignant and unhappy because one Jew refused to bow to him. At the urging of his family and friends, he decided to hang Mordecai. When instead the king required Haman to honor Mordecai, he went home grieving.
Haman’s bitterness not only led him to fail to appreciate his blessings, but it led him to seek to kill a man who had never done him any real wrong.
Psalm 73:2-5,12-19,24-28 – Asaph almost stumbled because he was envious at the prosperity of the wicked. They do not seem to be troubled as are the righteous, so it appears there is no benefit in serving God. When he went to God’s sanctuary and appreciated the blessings of serving God, Asaph understood the ultimate consequences.
Acts 5:40-42 – The apostles were beaten and warned not to continue preaching about Jesus. Instead of bitterly resenting their mistreatment, they rejoiced to suffer for the cause of Christ. Many people allow mistreatment to discourage them so that they cease to fulfill their responsibilities for the Lord. Instead, the apostles recognized and appreciated the blessings they had and the opportunity they had to serve God.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 – Even though our outward man perishes, we should not lose heart because our inward man may be renewed day by day. The affliction we have is but for a moment and is a light affliction compared to the far greater weight of glory before us.
So rather than focusing on your problems, brooding and mulling over them in your mind, focus on the blessings God gives and the ultimate eternal rewards.
2 Samuel 18:33-19:8 – David: When his son Absalom led a revolution and was killed in battle, David went into his room and grieved, wishing he had died instead of Absalom. Joab told him that he was treating the people who had defended him as though they were the ones who did wrong. He urged David to reassure the people of his appreciation or they would all cease following him.
1 Kings 19:1-4,13-18 – Elijah had demonstrated the power of God and had slain the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (chapter 18). But Jezebel threatened to take his life, so he fled and prayed for God to take his life. At Mount Horeb God asked him what he was doing there. Elijah said all the prophets of God had been slain, he was the only one left, and they sought to kill him.
God told him to get up and go anoint people to various leadership roles. But God still had seven thousand who had not bowed their knee to Baal. Things were not nearly as bad as Elijah thought, and God still had work for him. He needed to stop brooding and get to work.
When people wallow in bitter self-pity, often they sit around and mope. They tend to think things are worse than what they really are. They may neglect their work, they may fail to appreciate their real friends, or they may mistreat those close to them. Regardless of how they feel, they need to get up, go to work, and appreciate the blessings they have and the people who care for them.
Genesis 39:4,22 – Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave to Egypt. Later he was imprisoned because his master’s wife lied about him. But instead of sitting around feeling sorry for himself, Joseph always worked hard and did the best he could in whatever position he found himself.
Esther 4:1,5-8 – Mordecai cried aloud bitterly when he heard that Haman had issued a decree that all Jews would be slain. However, he immediately went to work on the problem by urging Esther to speak to the king on behalf of the Jews.
Matthew 26:37-44 – Jesus in Gethsemane was facing severe mistreatment and injustice. But after praying to God, He proceeded to act with courage and strength to do exactly what He knew was the will of the Father.
Acts 4:18-31 – Peter and John had been called before the Sanhedrin council, warned not to preach about Jesus, and threatened with punishment. Instead of moping and feeling sorry for themselves, they met with other Christians and prayed to God for boldness. Then they continued to preach despite the threats. [Acts 5:40-42]
Ephesians 4:31,32 – Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. Bitterness is associated with wrath, anger, evil speaking, and malice. Often our bitterness expresses itself in mistreating those around us even when they have done us no wrong. The solution is to learn to be kind and forgiving as God is. [James 3:11]
Colossians 3:19 – Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Often our bitterness is expressed especially toward family members. Apparently we as men have a special problem. The solution is to love and act for the good of others instead of brooding about problems.
[Leviticus 19:18; Romans 12:14,17-21; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; James 3:14-17; Nehemiah 13:4-9; 2 Samuel 2:26; Ephesians 6:5-8; 1 Peter 2:18-20]
Psalm 38:1-8 – David said the consequences of his sins and of God’s wrath was a burden too heavy to be borne. He confessed his errors and called upon God to help him (verses 18-22).
Psalm 32:1-5 – David groaned all day long because of the burden of guilt; but when he confessed his sins, God forgave him.
Matthew 26:75 – Peter wept bitterly when he realized he had been guilty of denying Christ.
Acts 8:22,23 – Simon had been forgiven yet he went back into sin. Peter said that he was poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity. He must repent and pray for forgiveness.
Often people wallow in self-pity and bitterness because of the consequences of their own sins. They may deny their guilt, make excuses, or blame others. Some even blame God for their problems. The only real solution is to recognize that one is suffering the guilt of his own sins and seek forgiveness according to the Scriptures.
In other cases, people may become so bitterly resentful and full of self-pity that they allow their bitterness to lead them to commit sin. In this case, sin may not be the initial cause of the bitterness, but failure to handle the problems of life properly may lead to bitterness which in turn becomes sinful.
Job 42:1-5 – Job was required to acknowledge his error because his bitterness had led him to complain against God. Job had suffered initially through no fault of his own. The Scriptures plainly say that he was upright before God. However, he allowed his bitterness and resentment because of his suffering to lead him to complain against God and blame God improperly.
Hebrews 12:15 – Look carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. Sometimes bitterness begins because people fall short of the grace of God. But it may grow and create problems for other people. As a result many may become defiled.
James 3:14 – If you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. Bitterness is often caused by selfishness and envy, and it often leads to them.
So again, bitterness is often associated with sin. It may be the result of sin. Or when we suffer through no fault of our own, we may respond improperly, which in turn may lead to sin.
When sin is the cause of our bitterness or when it is the result of our bitterness, in either case we must seek God’s forgiveness.
[Romans 4:13,14; 2 Chronicles 33:12,13]
This study has focused on a specific area of negative thinking, but the principles we have learned also apply to other related problems including worry and anxiety, depression, and desire for vengeance. If you are struggling with these thought patterns, I encourage you to think seriously about the principles in this lesson.
The passages we have studied do not teach that it is always wrong to think about the fact that others mistreat us. Moses, Jesus, the apostles, and other faithful servants were aware of their mistreatment and thought about it. When people did wrong it was because they did not react properly to the mistreatment.
So, let us summarize the lessons to be learned:
* We may blame God for our problems or fail to trust Him to truly meet our needs.
* We may imagine that others have mistreated us and falsely accuse those who are innocent.
* We may seek vengeance or try to hurt those who have mistreated us.
* We may hold grudges and fail to truly forgive those who repent and ask forgiveness.
* We may envy those who are wicked, wishing we could avoid God’s requirements.
* We may fail to recognize and appreciate God’s blessings.
* We may mistreat those around us rather than recognizing the good they do us.
* We may neglect to fulfill our responsibilities because we are wallowing in self-pity.
* Pray and study God’s word.
* Trust God that He knows what is best and His word is right.
* Dwell on the blessings of God and appreciate the good He does.
* Appreciate the good others do and be sure to treat those around you properly.
* Consider the needs of others and focus on solving problems.
* Remember your responsibilities and go to work on the tasks God has for you.
* Seek forgiveness for your sins.
* Focus on your eternal reward rather than discouraging yourself with self-pity.
Do you find yourself, like me, at times brooding and feeling sorry for yourself with bitter feelings because you think others around you mistreat you or cause problems for you because they act improperly? If so, I challenge you to take to heart the principles we have studied.
Philippians 4:6-8 – Rather than feeling anxious, we must go to God in prayer seeking His help with our problems. We must be grateful for the many good blessings that He has given us. We must focus our thoughts on those things that are pure and virtuous and praiseworthy, etc. The end result will give us peace that passes understanding.
Do you have sins in your life that you need to correct in order to receive God’s forgiveness? Do you need to become a child of God by repenting of your sins, confessing Christ, and being baptized? Has bitterness or some other temptation in life led you into error? If so, why not obey the gospel teaching and be forgiven of your sins?
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2018
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.