Personal Bitter Judgments


Nancy Bentz discusses the personal bitter judgments that grow out of the bitter roots we are cautioned about in Hebrews 12:15.

Today I want to talk about a bunch of tangled roots--the PB&J kind--and we’re not talkin’ sandwiches.

No, sigh. Unfortunately, in this case, that cute little acronym stands for personal bitter judgments. Which is what grows out of those bitter roots we are cautioned about in Hebrews 12:15 (once again):

“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.”

If there really is beauty underneath all those tangled roots of shame (and there is), part of the untangling hinges on knowing where and how those roots originated. And ultimately, what is needed to be rid of their power to squeeze out the very life offered to us through God’s gift of grace.

What’s interesting about roots is that we can’t tell from looking at the mass of them whether they are healthy roots or bitter roots. After all, ‘roots is roots.’ They are not designed to be pretty. They’re designed to burrow into the ground, take hold, and be the conduit from which the life above-ground drinks. The result? Good fruit or bad fruit.

Jesus did not leave it up to an opinion poll when he said that we will recognize a tree by its fruit. In Matthew 7:16-18 his famous ‘good tree / bad tree’ comparison is very clear.

So here’s our first clue as to what those PB&J roots (bitter root judgments) are and how they got their start…

A root is a way of drinking from God, others, ourselves, and life. If we have good roots, we drink nourishment from God and others. If we have bitter roots, we drink poison from our own bitterness.1

I am grieved to say that I spent a fair share of my life drinking poison from my own bitterness. Each of the following descriptions could have been featured copy for this former poster child of shame:

  • A bitter root judgment is a type of personal fortress of our flesh; take a read of II Corinthians 10:3-5.
  • Bitter root judgments are birthed out of our sinful reactions to being hurt. This kind of judgment is particularly gnarly because its very nature is condemning…not only about what others have done, but about who they are. (Sounds a lot like the definition of shame, huh?)
  • A bitter root that grows up to cause trouble and defile many is the outcome of not only the way we view and relate to the one who has hurt or offended us, but to God, ourselves, life in general, or whole categories of people.

TV, newspapers, the internet, even the conversation in the booth behind us at a local eatery headlines the many ways in which hurt and offended people have magnified and projected that hurt onto entire groups. Defiling many multiplied.

  • Bitter roots grow in childhood when we judge others for a real or perceived wound.

I’ll guarantee you, most adults do not remember what they judged as children. But where the fruit is bitter today, it’s a sure sign that ‘PB&J sammiches’ were being served up right next to the lunchbox kind when it came to living with parents, siblings, teachers, and even the child’s perceptions of God.

But a seed was sown. And you know what seeds do…they grow quietly under cover of ground until the right conditions arise for them to sprout and produce after their kind.

Which brings us back to the fruit…

It is NOT the sins others have committed against us that produces bitter fruit in us.

No, sigh. We are the sower and the reaper both, for it is our sins in reaction to others’ words or actions that produces the bitter fruit within. Fed and nurtured, of course, by those nasty, gnarly bitter roots.

It all gets really messy when our bitter roots defile others by tempting them to react sinfully to our judgment. Before long, it feels like the tanks of World War III have overrun the premises.

In the meantime, fix yourself a real PB&J sandwich. Protein is good for the body when going after roots. Shame is not a pleasant subject to look at, but God promises that “anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.” Romans 10:11

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