In the 1992 movie The Last of the Mohicans there is a powerful scene after the women and British officer Duncan are taken captive by the Hurons who are allied with the French in the French and Indian War, 1757.
Magua, the Huron war chief is trying to convince the Hurons to burn the captives at the stake. Daniel Day-Lewis who plays Hawkeye strides into the camp under the protection on wampum and insists on his right to be heard in the debate.
He argues for clemency pointing out that the English would not forgive the atrocity of burning the captives at the stake and would seek their own revenge-a revenge the Hurons could not prevent.
Mague continues to argue and recounts how earlier in his life his village had been attacked by the English and their Mohawk allies. Magua lost his mother, father and family and he was made slave to the Mohawk, eventually pretending to be Mohawk in order to seek revenge when the opportunity presented itself.
Magua’s speech has all the hallmarks of an embittered person. He is so blinded by his thirst for revenge that he ignores what may happen to the Huron when the English seek their own revenge. Magua is consumed by own his own self-interest.
In an even more powerful speech Hawkeye argues that Magua has become the very evil that had caused him such pain in the first place. The main Huron chief who is listening to the arguments tries to make a decision that allows Magua to burn just the British officer Duncan but not the women. Magua storms out of the council meeting hoping to get a decision from the more western Hurons that will satisfy his thirst for vengeance.
The scene paints a powerful picture of what the Bible calls malice, a term that literally means “bad-heartedness” or “hard-heartedness.”
The term is used in Ephesians 4:31…
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Ephesians 4:31 ESV)
The other terms in the verse lend weight as to what the bitter person looks like and acts like.
The term “bitter” is the bitter root from which wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice come.
It’s a smoldering resentment directed against God’s sovereignty (whether the person realizes it or not) vertically speaking and horizontally against others.
Bitterness is like an acid in the person’s heart and is often reflected by a discontent spirit and a sour, crabby demeanor and scowl on the face. Bitterness is snake-bite venom rooted in the heart.
Wrath is a term closely related to bitterness. It’s almost as if the apostle Paul is putting further edge on an already sharp term.
Wrath has been defined as a deeply settled indignation that keeps on stoking the bitterness inside. Wrath is the everyday choice to keep the bitterness alive that seeks to punish just about everyone. As a result most people do not want to be around the bitter person.
Anger might be described as the temporary explosion of wrath. If a person is chronically angry (or depressed for that matter) it reveals a bitter heart and a life that objects to the sovereignty of God (again, whether they know it or not).
Clamor, according to Pastor John MacArthur “is the outcry of strife out of control.” The bitter person wants everyone to know how bitter they are, how unfair life has been and how grieved they have been. Clamor is another type of revenge that insists on being heard.
Slander is related to clamor, but it simply means “evil speaking.” It’s another type of revenge often in the guise of justice and self-righteous indignation. It’s speaking words that are intended to injure another and God says slander is reviling.
As a biblical counselor I’ve seen the damage that bitterness can cause. I’ve seen marriages fail, relationships shattered beyond repair and church’s destroyed because of bitter and unforgiving people.
apostle Paul is good at laying out the bad news about bitterness but he also good at laying out the solution that is found in the gospel.
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:32 ESV)
The antidote to the poison of bitterness is forgiveness. The basis for forgiveness is what God has forgiven in Christ. The apostle Paul echoes Jesus’ own words in Matthew 18:21-35 in what it means for a person to forgive from the heart.
More on that in Part Two.