In the Interest of Bitterness
Anyone who has taken the time to calculate a loan repayment schedule understands the implications of interest, and how interest paid on long-term loans will often exceed the amount of principal paid before the loan is paid off. In fact, if the interest rate is too high, or the term too long, the amount of interest paid can be several times the principal paid over the life of the loan, especially in the case of compounded interest.
This same phenomenon has an interesting spiritual application. Psalm 4:4 says
“In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” Selah NIV
When a Psalm is punctuated with the directive “Selah”, that is a clue for us to stop and think about what we have just read. Paul later quotes this Psalm in Ephesians 4:26-27:
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” NIV
When I am offended in some way, I may become angry. While some anger is well-justified, it should only move me toward resolving the offense, forgiving the offense, and moving on with my life.
When I choose, instead, to hold onto the offense, refusing to forgive, I enter into a debt of unforgiveness. Notice, I do not put the offender into debt, they may not even know I am upset. Instead I go into debt, and the last phrase of the passage in Ephesians gives us a clue as to who holds the note on that debt.
I would propose that bitterness then, becomes the interest I pay on that debt of unforgiveness; and it is compounded nightly. Let’s take this statement apart and examine it more closely.
Proverbs 22:7 says:
“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant (slave) to the lender.” NIV
We often quote this as a recommendation to avoid financial debt, but it applies equally well in this case, especially when we consider who is holding the note on any debt of unforgiveness. As long as I owe a debt, my resources are not my own, but subject to the will of the lender. And when he exacts interest on the debt, I fall deeper into debt with time.
The interest payment of bitterness grows with time and will soon overwhelm the original offense, even to the point that I do not remember the original offense. The classical feud between the Hatfields and McCoys was an excellent example. Few if any, in the two families could tell you what started the feud, but it was kept alive over several generations by the bitterness. The interest paid was far in excess of the original offense. And the interest of bitterness is a compounding interest. It is paid not only on the original offense, but on any bitterness that has grown since the debt of unforgiveness was first incurred.
Like any interest, the growth of bitterness is dependent upon three factors: the interest rate, the term of the debt, and the compounding period. Let’s look at each one.
The rate of interest that a debtor is charged is often a reflection of his or her credit history and assets. If a person has a long history of unpaid, or slowly paid debts, the interest charged will be higher. The logic is that, first they are a higher risk for defaulting on the debt, and they are probably more desperate, hence more willing to pay the higher rate just to get the loan. Neither factor works in the debtor’s favor, but may enrich the lender.
In the same way, one with a history of unforgiveness will pay a higher rate of bitterness interest on any subsequent debt of unforgiveness incurred. This higher interest rate means that the bitterness will more quickly overwhelm the original offense so that the debt is mostly bitterness.
The term of the debt determines how long the debtor will pay interest on the debt, hence the total amount of interest paid over the term of debt. In the same way, the longer I chooses to remain unforgiving, the more bitterness will be charged to my account. Unless the debt is settled quickly, the bitterness interest will greatly exceed the original offense.
The compounding period is the interval at which any accumulated interest is rolled into the original principal owed to increase the principal on which future interest is paid. The more frequently the interest is compounded, the faster the debt grows, because the principal is larger each time the interest is calculated.
Bitterness interest is compounded nightly. Look again at the passages from Psalms and Ephesians. They both implore us to resolve any anger before we sleep, lest it turn to bitterness. Something profound happens when I go to sleep pondering something. It seems to get more solidly fixed in my heart and mind, so that it becomes more a part of me.
Anger works the same way. When I go to sleep angry, I will often wake up angry, and may not even fully remember the reason I first became angry. Each time I do “sleep on my anger”, I become less cognizant of the original cause of the anger and more caught up in the festering bitterness that has accumulated.
Bitterness is not a fixed interest rate, but a variable interest rate. On any variable rate debt, the lender, not the debtor determines any changes in the interest rate. The debtor may agree to an initial rate, but after that, he or she is at the mercy of the lender as to the rate charged. Satan is a predatory lender, and once he has a person deeply into the debt of unforgiveness, he will raise the interest rate to the point that they have no chance of ever paying the debt. Like any predatory lender, he does not care if the initial principal is ever paid off. The longer he can keep me in debt, the more I will pay in interest.
Lastly, we must consider what the debt of unforgiveness builds. I may enter into financial debt to build a home. At the same time as I am building my own home, and well beyond, I am also building a home for the banker through the interest I pay. In fact, “my home” is really the bank’s until I pay off the debt. A debt of unforgiveness in the same way builds a home, or rather a fortress (stronghold) for Satan in my life. From that fortress he can operate without interference in my life, protected behind the walls I have paid for with my bitterness.
If the outlook for relief from an unforgiveness debt looks bleak, there’s a good reason. It is! Once I become caught up in it I quickly become hopelessly mired in the interest of bitterness. If it were not for my advocate, the very Son of God, I would have no hope of escaping the predator’s trap. When I yield to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to forgive the initial offense, and ask forgiveness for the sin of bitterness, God “forgives my debt as I have forgiven my debtors.” To the extent that I forgive those who have offended me, I become free of the debt of bitterness that threatens to bury me. It is only then that Jesus can come in and tear down the stronghold Satan has built.
Any time I willingly enter into debt, there will be a cost. The best strategy is to never enter into the debt of unforgiveness in the first place. Then I will never incur any bitterness interest, with its heavy toll on my spiritual, psychological and physical health.
Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.