Monday, November 28, 2016

The Grinch

One of the awesome things happening in my congregation is a Sunday Night group Bible study.  Each week we take a question asked by a member of our church, study all week, and then work on it as a class.  A few weeks ago we studied the Grinch.

Confused?  The actual topic was bitterness.  And there is no better Christmas season example than the Grinch.  If bitterness is a disease, he has every symptom.

He's isolated (His dog barely likes him).

He's angry.

He's self-absorbed.

He is ready to share his misery with others. 

His heart is 2 sizes too small!

For all that we get a Christmas laugh out of the old cartoon (and maybe sing along with Cindy Lou Who)  bitterness is a very serious problem with complex causes and complex solutions.  

Bitterness results from...

A lack of forgiveness- having suffered some hurt (whether serious-a divorce, minor-a spat with a friend, real-the untimely death of a loved one, or imagined-a perceived slight) they just can't let go.

Unresolved grief-grief has a legitimate component of anger but not being able to move past that brings on bitterness.

Bad Theology-people sometimes believe that God's promises ensure a happy or trouble-free life.  

The Bible describes bitterness with two metaphors.  One is agricultural.  "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled" (Hebrews 12:15).  The Grinch is a great example of the danger the whole community is in when a bitter person has free reign.  How easy would it have been for the bitterness to spread from house to house as children woke up to no presents on Christmas morning!

The second is a taste metaphor.  In Mandarin the word for bitter (the taste) is used to describe a life full of suffering.  Similarly in the Old Testament the word bitter often is used  to describe water.  Imagine in a semi-arid climate finding a spring of water only to realize the water promises not relief from thirst but illness or even death.  More metaphorically the word bitter is also used for suffering.  Naomi, when everything she loved or hoped for had been snatched away, changed her own name to "Mara"-bitter.  Bitterness then is the taste, the cramping horror of everything that should have brought relief turning to poison in our mouths.

Then what can we do if someone we love is becoming bitter?

Don't give up on them-Bitterness is isolating. It makes people difficult to deal with, unpleasant to be around.  Both as individuals and as churches we have to prove ourselves our Father's children and love the unlovely ( Matthew 6:43-48).

Provide Perspective- In our class people who had lived through abandonment and betrayal described it as an all consuming whirlwind.  Someone who loves us can speak into that chaos and provide the prespective we need--that time passes, that there is still hope, that God loves us.  They can help us see the future beyond our present trouble. 

Gently bring better theology to bear-God's servants have always suffered.  Jeremiah provides an excellent example. His climatic poem in Lamentations 3 shows us how a faithful person responds to tragedy and bitterness.  I would recommend it as a starting place for any study on the subject of bitterness.  Of course, Jesus is our ultimate example.  God's plan for us is good.  But it may not be the good we hoped for.  In the moment our suffering, our story may seem meaningless or unreasonable.  We humbly serve the God who came to earth to suffer for us.  He walked this road first.  Our Father simply did NOT promise us an easy life.  (Matthew 10:16-23).

Don't Judge-Obviously you and I can recognize when someone is bitter.  We can acknowledge bitterness is a sin and gently confront them.  But we have not walked a single step in their shoes and we have no idea how difficult things have been.  Jesus' famous admonition on judging, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you," is that we would appreciate mercy when we are judged and so should extend a generous measure of mercy in our judgment of others (Matthew 7:1-2).

The Grinch found redemption.  At the end of the cartoon he was accepted into Whoville before he ever repented of his evil.  He saw the sincere love of his neighbors for each other, their genuine lack of materialism, and his heart grew!  I hope that those in our lives who struggle with bitterness won't have to hijack Christmas for us to help them find peace and healing. 

Ready for more Christmas posts?  Try these:


  1. This is fantastic. Thanks for the fun theme and in-depth Biblical truth!

  2. What a great way to look at such a difficult topic. I love your encouragement in loving those who are bitter (which is so hard sometimes!) So glad I stopped by :)

  3. It can be tough! Yet both the prevention and the cure for bitterness is to have someone love us relentlessly. It's how our Father has always loved us.

  4. Love this! So many great nuggets of truth here. Thanks!