Forgiveness: How to Move on from Anger and Bitterness

Written by Cynthia Thomas

Edited by Amy Young

I struggle with anger. And bitterness. I didn’t always.

It didn’t start appearing until my teen years. My parents divorced when I was 12 and the 25 years of fallout has had a big impact. Out of respect for familial relationships I will not go into any further details.

But what does the Bible say about anger? Are we allowed to stay angry?

Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV) tell us,

31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

We must forgive others the pain, anger, and bitterness they have caused in our lives because Jesus has done the same for us! And when they hurt us again, we are to forgive again. And again. And again. And again. The Bible tells us in Matthew 18 about “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.”

In this parable, a servant owes a huge sum of money to his king. Since the servant cannot pay, the king decides to sell the servant, his family, and all his belongings to repay the debt. The servant begs the king to be patient with him, and the king takes pity on him and cancels the debt.

But then the servant goes out, finds a fellow servant who owes him a small amount of money and demands it be repaid immediately. And when this man cannot repay him, he has him thrown into prison. When the other servants saw what happened, they went and told their master immediately. The master was furious, and had his servant sent to jail and tortured. He says to his servant,

“You wicked servant…I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?…This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:32-33,35

Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 18:21-22 that they must forgive seventy-seven times. We are to forgive others without limit. WITHOUT LIMIT? Yes, you read that right— without limit! Oh I know that is so hard. But we are not on our own. We have the power of the Holy Spirit to do the impossible.

Acts 1:8 (NIV) tells us,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…”

When you are hurt again, beg the Holy Spirit to give you the love and forgiveness that you lack. And when you become angry again about that same situation, surrender it again to the Lord. And again the next day and the next. Surrender it as many times as necessary.

A wonderful resource for dealing with anger and bitterness and replacing it with love and forgiveness comes from Corrie Ten Boom and her book Tramp for the Lord.

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian evangelist after World War II. Her family gave sanctuary to Jews during the war and was eventually betrayed and imprisoned. Although Corrie suffers the loss of several family members, she survives the concentration camps with an unwavering faith in God and begins to travel the world sharing her story of love and forgiveness. The book details many stories of people who forgave after WWII as well as stories of those who did not.

While in Germany, after one of her talks, she was confronted by one of the most cruel male guards she had faced at Ravensbruck concentration camp.  After they exchanged a few words, he asked her to forgive him! Imagine trying to forgive someone who not only tormented you, but also your frail older sister! But when Corrie needed it most, the Holy Spirit took over her body and filled her with the love and forgiveness she lacked. She was able to shake the guard’s hand and completely forgive him! Only Jesus can do such a thing.

The only way to get rid of bitterness is to surrender it to the Lord. In her book, Corrie shared how those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. Those who were able to forgive, were able to move on and rebuild their lives.

Surrender it daily if necessary. What does it look like to surrender? For me, it usually goes something like this, “Lord, please forgive my anger/hate. Please fill me with the love and forgiveness that I lack. Thank you for all that you do. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

I have begged God for many years to help me forgive certain people in my life. In God’s perfect timing, he has taken away the anger towards certain individuals and replaced it with forgiveness and peace. In other instances, God has yet to remove it. But I continue to trust God in His great wisdom and timing.

1 Corinthians 1:25 (NIV)

25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

Even on our wisest days, it is still inferior to God’s worst day!

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

A Time for Everything

1 “There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.”

Anger and hate are strong, difficult emotions that if left unchecked, can spread like poison throughout your body and life. Don’t let them build a stronghold in your heart— stay in control of them and go to the Lord with them as often as necessary. Even where God has removed them, you may still occasionally have bad memories come up that cause you to get upset again. Immediately go to the Lord and surrender them. It is possible to be free of that anger— don’t stop asking God to remove it! Be patient with Him and wait for His perfect timing. His wisdom and knowledge are so much greater than ours. He can see the whole picture while what we see is minuscule.

God loves you. Stay faithful to Him and in your Bible reading and prayer time. Stay close to the Lord and lean on Him, even when you feel hurt and don’t understand.

Romans 5:8 (NIV)

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Peace beyond all understanding comes solely from the Lord. God has given me peace in certain areas and He can give it to you too!

Philippians 4:7 (NIV)

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”


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