Proverbs 14:10 "The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy.."
In his book ‘In the Grip of Grace’, Max Lucado shares the story of Kevin Tunell.
Read carefully. The bitterness in the heart of the family he impacted is overwhelming: "Each week, Kevin Tunell is required to mail a dollar to a family he’d rather forget. They sued him for $1.5 million but settled for $936, to be paid a dollar at a time. The family expects payment each Friday so Tunell won’t forget what happened on the first Friday of 1982. That’s the day their daughter was killed. Tunell was convicted of manslaughter and drunken driving. He was seventeen. She was eighteen. Tunell served a court sentence. He also spent seven years campaigning against drunk driving, six years more than his sentence required. But he keeps forgetting to send the dollar.
The weekly restitution is to last until the year 2000. Eighteen years. Tunell makes the check out to the victim, mails it to her family, and the money is deposited in a scholarship fund. The family has taken him to court four times for failure to comply. After the most recent appearance, Tunell spent thirty days in jail. He insists that he’s not defying the order but rather is haunted by the girl’s death and tormented by the reminders. He offered the family two boxes of checks covering the payments until the year 2001, one year more than required. They refused. It’s not money they seek, but penance.
Few would question the anger of the family. Only the naïve would think it fair to leave the guilty unpunished. But I do have one concern. Is 936 payments enough? Not for Turell to send, mind you, but for the family to demand? When they receive the final payment, will they be at peace? Is eighteen years’ restitution sufficient? Will 196 months’ worth of remorse be adequate?
How much is enough? Were you in the family and were Turell your target, how many payments would you require? Better stated, how many payments do you require?"
After reading this story, I am forced to think who is the real victim. The bitterness that torments this family because of a stupid, careless act isn’t something they saw coming. Not something anyone could prepare for. Life suddenly hits you head on. And it’s often horrible.
When we talk about bitterness, what exactly is it?
What does Proverbs 14:10 mean, ‘The heart knows its own bitterness’? In Hebrews 12:14-15 God warns us that when we are not pursuing peace and holiness, we are vulnerable to the defiling effect of bitterness that can become rooted in our hearts: "Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord; looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any ROOT OF BITTERNESS springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled."
The word for bitterness is ‘pikria’, from the root word "pik" meaning "to cut". It refers to being pointed or sharp so as to stick or irritate. It is used to describe a person’s heart condition, not seen by men, but manifested in behavior or lifestyle self-centeredness that defiles and destroys from within. Its characteristics are unforgiving, revengeful, even evil speaking.
But the tragedy is that the victim carries it inside, and it’s something they allow, even welcome, in their heart. In point of fact, bitterness can be defined in three ways: 1) a gift I give to myself, left by the people who have wronged me, which I have received and guard tightly within my heart; 2) the debt those who have wronged me owe to me until the day they are brought to justice; 3) viewed by me as rightfully mine – once I allow unresolved hurt to become resentment and bitterness inside my heart, I feel more and more like the victim who is justified to demand payment for the debt owed to me.
How would you describe a victim of bitterness? They are powerless, they have no control over their lives, and are at the mercy of others. They are a prisoner, reacting to the circumstances that have confronted them and which they cannot control.
Does this describe you? We have all known the effect of bitterness in our lives. So how do we pursue peace and holiness in a way that prevents bitterness from rooting itself in our hearts?
Next week, we’ll examine God’s very practical answer – His practical application of forgiving someone.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called "Faith: Substance and Evidence." He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.