mong the conspirators who assassinated Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. was Marcus Brutus. Caesar not only trusted Brutus but loved him dearly as a son. According to historians, Caesar first resisted the onslaught of the assassins. Then seeing Brutus among them with his dagger poised, he ceased to struggle, pulling his robe over his face and asking, “You too, Brutus?”
Seventy-five years later the Son of God and His betrayer hung dead, one on a wooden cross, the other from a tree. The circumstances of these two events signified contrasting life principles.
The cross held the faithful One, who died at the hands of His betrayers. Judas’ tree held a betrayer who died at his own hand. Jesus’ death was supremely generous. From its inception, the effect of His death fanned out like a life-giving shockwave throughout the eons and the cosmos. But Judas’ death was an ugly affair of inwardly imploding guilt. Jesus gave life to the world; Judas was an accessory to murder and then committed suicide. There couldn’t be a sharper distinction in two stories or characters. In our relationships with one another, we must choose between these two principles—either we will carry the cross, or we will double-cross.
Betrayal is the worst of social infractions. It violates more than a person; it violates also a cherished bond forged between two souls. It does so at the point of trust, where vulnerability is at its peak. Friendship has melted away normal defenses, rendering the blow much more severe than that of a feared enemy or a distrusted stranger. The psalmist understood this concept when he wrote: “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend; we who had sweet fellowship together” (Ps. 55:12-14, NASB).*
So let’s look at the process of healing from betrayal. It is something available to all, and is actually quite simple, logical, and, of course, biblical.
The Healing Process
First, assess the damage. Neither deny nor exaggerate the situation. While your feelings are important, they aren’t infallible. Through prayer and personal reflection, clarify the facts. There’s a chance you may be minimizing the situation; or you also may be overestimating how badly you’ve been treated. Often the wounds inflicted by abuse or other past traumas are reopened by smaller hurts. Do your best to get an objective reading of your current situation.
It may be appropriate to follow gospel order according to Matthew 18:15-20 by approaching the offending party directly. If direct communication doesn’t bring healing, get counsel from a mature and trusted person, asking for their objective input and help in resolving the conflict. Be sure not to use this counsel as an excuse to “bite back” at your betrayer. If you do, you will only add sin to sin and compound the problem. The goal is to contain the fire of violated trust, not spread it.
It’s easy to be naive about the depravity of human nature in a “How-could-they-do-that?” sort of way. You must get past that. Accept the betrayal as proof that God’s proclamation of human inconsistency is true.
It can be difficult to resolve the psychological dissonance of broken trust. Time can soften the pang, but even then it continues to rattle in the breast for years. Don’t pathologize this. Some hurts we will carry to our graves. Accept the uneasy feelings that come from violated bonds, but then work toward doing all you can to resolve them.
Learn the lesson this experience teaches. There’s a marvelous principle woven throughout Scripture that might be called “beauty for ashes.” The principle involves the core lesson of the cross—that God can bring very, very good out of very, very bad. Jesus’ mission in this world was redemption; He redeemed the human race from sin. But the redemption extends beyond the saving of souls to the saving of situations. A friendship is a terrible thing to waste, but God can make something good out of the wreckage.
The Bible translator William Tyndale was betrayed by a friend, bringing him to prison and ultimately a heretic’s death of strangulation and burning at the stake. His last words were, “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.” Within a year this prayer was answered as the king began to support the dissemination of Tyndale’s translations. As cliché as “they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (see Gen. 50:20) has become, it’s still a great thing to keep in mind. Let the cross speak to your situation; God takes the raw materials of human failure and from them fashions His own perfect, saving providence.
Best of all, God can use the rubble of broken bonds to form character: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4, NASB).
Betrayal is an excellent deterrent if processed in God’s workroom. The “knife in the back” sensitizes a soul to just how painful betrayal is. Outside of God’s workroom, the knife wound becomes hard and calloused; but allow God’s shaping hand on your situation and you will actually become a better person. Never again will the flippant comment about someone not present or the sarcastic joke snickered under your breath come without a smitten conscience. And this is a good thing.
And Then . . . Forgiveness
Now you can forgive the person. The Bible’s teaching is clear: If we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven (see Mark 11:25, 26). Is that because our forgiveness of others is a bargaining chip with which we purchase God’s forgiveness? No, because we can’t manage to forgive at all while in a state of alienation from Him. It’s more like God’s forgiveness inspires and informs ours.
But resentment can stall our good impulses like a car wreck stalls traffic. How to remove the refuse? Some fascinating research shows that “seeing one’s own capability for wrongdoing predicts forgiveness.”1 In other words, realizing our own sinfulness makes us more forgiving of others’ sins. Paul said that when addressing sin in another, “[consider] yourself lest you also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1, NKJV).†
This realization was probably what finally enabled Mary Magdalene to forgive Simon the Pharisee, who had “led [her] into sin.”2 Jesus said of her: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much” (Luke 7:47, NKJV). Did He forgive her “much” because her sins were so great? No. His preceding parable made it clear that her perpetrator, Simon, was much more guilty than she. She was forgiven much because divine forgiveness penetrated her soul down to the roots of her sin problem. In her “much forgiven” state she finally realized that she was in possession of the same basic sinfulness that had led Simon to abuse her.
Taking this self-awareness into our betrayal situation leads us to ask: Is there not a Judas in every one of us? A betrayer who would indulge selfish aims over integrity? Couldn’t Judas rule our lives if we let him?
From this more wise perspective you can learn to trust again. Yes, you can trust again.
Never Hurt Again?
I used to like the popular expression “Hurt me once, shame on you; hurt me twice, shame on me.” Today I’m not sure I want the burden of keeping myself from getting hurt. Yes, good boundaries are important, but living the Christian life includes a willingness to be vulnerable. In a strange way, an overemphasis on boundaries and self-preservation can result in blaming the victim. Was Jesus responsible for Judas’ actions? No—and He knew about them ahead of time!
Use your common sense to navigate through hurtful relationships. Speaking for myself, there are some brethren I will always love from a distance. But in the end, trust is an act of . . . well, trust. If a person had any way of knowing a particular hurtful experience would never happen again, it wouldn’t be trust. Trust entails risk. To trust the betrayer again, or any other human being—within reasonable limits—entails a risk of being hurt again. But with good, biblical processing skills in place, we don’t need to worry about that.
After all, having our trust betrayed can press us closer to the One who was supremely betrayed, and “of all the gifts that Heaven can bestow upon men, fellowship with Christ
in His sufferings is the most weighty trust and the highest honor.”3
*Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
†Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copy-
right ” 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1J. J. Exline, R. F. Baumeister, A. L. Zell, A. J. Kraft, and C.V.O. Witvliet, “Not so innocent: Does seeing one’s own capability for wrongdoing predict forgiveness?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94, No. 3: 495-515.
2Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 566.
3Ibid., p. 225.
Jennifer Jill Schwirzer is practicing mental health counselor, author, and musician based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.