Centralia is a town in Eastern Pennsylvania. In the early 1900’s, millions of tons of coal were mined from the region leaving behind an extensive web of excavated mine shafts, some more than 500 feet below the surface. In May 1962, on the outskirts of town, a garbage fire was burning in one of the old strip mine pits. This fire ignited one of the exposed coal seams which, in turn, made its way to the network of mine shafts. Over time, it spread underground until the ground began to seep smoke and fissures opened in roadways.
The grave nature of the problem emerged in 1981. As a young boy walked through a neighborhood, the ground caved in beneath his feet and opened into a 150-foot-deep hole. He was saved by clutching exposed tree roots until his cousin could rescue him. Though coal mine fires are common in the region, the danger of the fires being so close to the surface got the attention of the state. It was determined that a digging project to extinguish this fire would cost an estimated $660 million, and there were no solid guarantees that the attempt would work. The government began to buy the land and homes of the residents so they could relocate to safer ground. In 1981, there were 1600 people living there. Only 7 remained as of 2013, and they had reached an agreement with the state to live there until they died.
This fire, started in 1962, has been burning now for 58 years. Cracks in the ground release smoke and poisonous fumes into the air, and the surface is so unstable that to walk on it could cause it to collapse under one’s feet. Currently, the fire is eating away at a stretch of an 8-mile-long coal seam that experts say will keep it burning for another 250 years!
Centralia reminds me of bitterness.
The writer of Hebrews relates this truth to us: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15). We are warned to guard against a “root of bitterness” that would cause hurt to ourselves, to others, and most importantly, to our witness for Christ. Bitterness, unforgiveness and resentment–they all spread, and they all have a source. One incident, one person or one word viewed in the wrong way can light a small fire in a secluded corner of your life.
Soon, if left unchecked, the flames of bitterness can find their way into a major seam and begin to creep slowly and methodically though all the foundational supports you depend upon, feeding the fire. Eventually, what is going on underneath makes its way to the surface, and people begin to recognize the damage, or worse yet, they are injured by the poison that has accumulated inside. The major difference is this: you can’t simply move away from the bitterness. We carry that fire with us. Does it cost to release the bitterness and offer forgiveness? Absolutely. But remember this: the cost of withholding forgiveness is far greater (Matthew 18:21-35). No matter the personal expense, you must address the blaze, lest the fire that burns against another consumes you as well.
Is there something that burns beneath your surface that you need to allow God to deal with? Why not take some time today and talk to him about it? Only Jesus can bring true healing and extinguish the fires of bitterness.
“There is nothing that anyone can do to me that can compare with my sin of rebellion that Christ has completely forgiven.” – Robert McGee
We will not allow our anger (even righteous anger) to be used as an opportunity for Satan to gain an advantage over us. – Ephesians 4:26-27 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.
We will show the same forgiveness toward others that Christ has shown to us. – Ephesians 4:31-32 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
We would be slow to anger and recognize that it does not produce righteousness. – James 1:19-20 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.