The word bitter can apply to three distinct categories, each understood and developed by the Scriptures themselves. Category one highlights the “Bitter Lifestyle,” or behavioral bitterness. It is the “most recognizable form” of bitterness and is generally what we have in mind when we use the word. The second category dives deeper into the “Bitter Heart.” What we see on the outside does not always reflect what is going on in an individual. Viars helps readers to see that a bitter life stems from what is going on beneath the surface. The final category emphasizes the “Bitter Conditions.” This category, all too often neglected in Christians circles, represents the hardships which provide occasions for bitterness to start. Bitterness is “not just a response, it is a reality” (18), says Viars. Exploring our bitter responses must start with considerations of the reality of suffering. These three categories provide the framework for Viars’ work and lead readers to explore the interplay between context, heart, and hands. He demonstrates well that we must consider each thoroughly and Biblically if we are to actually move from “Life’s greatest hurts to a life filled with joy.”
The book has twelve chapters, and an epilogue, and provides readers with opportunities to reflect throughout the chapters. Viars’ “pull over and park” sections ask you to specifically reflect on details in the middle of the chapter. His “personal reflection” questions at the end of the chapter invite us to go deeper and engage in conversation with others. The first part of the book details the three categories and provides a rich theological understanding of bitterness. He walks us through all the uses of the word “bitter” from across the Scriptures and provides tremendous insight along the way. His particular attention to the third category of “bitter circumstances” was so helpful and is all too often neglected in this conversation. There is a good balance to the book in touching on both our sin and our suffering as it relates to bitterness. The latter part of the book, chapters 9-12 give readers an extended case study in bitterness through an exposition of the book of Ruth. In this portion of the book Viars makes the story of Naomi and Ruth come alive with loads of practical applications.
As a counselor I have found bitterness to be a frequent topic of discussion in a variety of counseling situations. As a person I have found it lurking in my own heart in a variety of places too. Having such a robust resources available to counsel myself and others is a tremendous blessing. There are some other good books out there on issues like forgiveness, and even a good booklet by Lou Priolo on the topic of bitterness. But to have a larger work that details the contours of bitterness and the way forward is much-welcomed and needed. I would recommend this to all Christians and especially to counselors and pastors.