Bitter and Sweet

By on March 8, 2013
Share Button

By Susan E. Richardson

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?” Then the “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path,” (Psalm 119:103-104).

For several years my Sunday School teacher, Ken, brought a DVD of a Messianic Passover presentation for us to watch during the Easter season. The presenter drew a clear picture of how Jesus’ death and resurrection appear in the Passover celebration, making the DVD perfect for Easter.

Part of the modern Passover celebration includes eating haroset, a mixture of chopped apples, nuts, wine, and spices symbolizing the bricks of slavery. The presenter talked about the haroset and asked why a symbol of slavery and suffering was sweet rather than bitter. The answer made me think. He said it was because even the bitterness of bondage became sweet in light of the certainty of redemption.

I’d seen mainly the bitterness—the pain and difficulty—of my journey. Neither the sweetness nor the certainty of redemption was part of the picture. Believing in a future that included something good enough to make all the difficulties worthwhile was hard.

Yet Passover reminded me of how symbols of affliction and redemption can come together: sweetness in slavery, redemption in chains. I needed a way to see both sides and to develop trust in God’s ongoing work within me, but I couldn’t move beyond what I could see and feel.

Finally I learned a difficult lesson: that trust is a choice. Often we must make it without feeling trustful. Choosing to trust may not change our feelings immediately, but eventually the choice allows us to see the sweetness more easily. We don’t deny the bitterness, but open our minds and hearts to believing something good exists beyond the pain.

Deciding to trust then opens the door to finding greater joy in the Lord as well. We can build on that joy when we understand it more deeply. Scripture tells us, “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” We don’t receive a hard, dry, bitter strength that pulls us through. Instead our strength comes from the sweetness of joy.

The context for the phrase from Nehemiah 8 illustrates how bitter and sweet can mix and how God calls us to good things. As the people rebuilt Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s guidance, they restored the Temple. Then Ezra brought the book of Law out and read it to the people, who wept as they heard God’s Law.

“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’ The Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.’ Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them,” (Nehemiah 8:10-12).

Their weeping turned to joy as they celebrated their understanding of God’s Law. The bitterness of their sin became a sweet call to celebrate God’s goodness.

When dealing with pain, our situation is not the same. We may not have been ignorant of God’s Law as the Israelites had been. We may not have rebelled against Him. The problem is that trauma can prevent us from understanding God’s character, so we miss the joy He wants to provide for us.

God calls us to joy following our sadness. His joy is for those of us life has wounded, too. His promises are for us, even though sometimes we have a hard time seeing the truth of them. “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever,” (Psalm 30:11-12).

You may still be weeping, but take heart in the promise that your tears will end. As you look around, what good things can you find despite your pain and tears? Search for the sweet in the journey and resist the temptation to focus on the bitter.

Lord, it isn’t easy to see the sweetness in the bitter. We are human and focus more easily on the pain and miss the blessings. Help us choose to trust You through the pain. Help us learn to find our joy in You.

(To get started with the full chewed petunias story, please visit www.chewedpetunias.com. You’ll find the story plus other material that may help you along the way.)