Having someone we trust turn on us is one of the worst feelings, but how do our gut reactions to this kind of harm often turn against us?
In a podcast episode on betrayal, Rusty George described going through a rough season with his church, “I was at a lunch with a guy, another pastor that's just a phenomenal guy, and he's older than me and lived longer and just had a great amount of wisdom, more than I did. I'm unpacking all this drama in my life, ‘And this hurt me, and this hurt me, and this hurt me.’
“I expected him to look at me and go, ‘Hey, suck it up. Jesus went to a cross, so deal with it.’ But instead, he told me a story.
“He told me a story of a family in their life that were the dearest of friends that turned on them. The guy was on the eldership, and she started using their own life against them. They left the church, and it was just so painful for him. He tells me that story, and I said, ‘Man, what are you learning through that?’ And he goes, ‘I don't know, but if it encourages you, it was worth it.’ I thought, ‘Man, talk about taking one for the team.’ But oddly enough it did encourage me, and it let me know I'm not alone….
“It brought me out of that downward spiral into me and made me think, ‘Man, there's other people out there going through stuff. Why don't we share this and do this together?’ Even though I'm an introvert, I can make room for three or four people and be real with them, and we'll be better together….
“I think this is true for everybody as we get older. Because we have enough people betray us, hurt us, move away from us, we just think, ‘Well, I'm not doing that. That's ridiculous.’ Especially guys. Guys have real difficulty finding friends because we tend to do friendship more side to side, driving in a car, fishing in a boat, playing on a team, not face to face….
“You've got to open up to somebody, and they need to know who you are because our secrets make us sick. If we're not able to share that with somebody, then we've got problems coming.
The Two Betrayals of Christ
Everyone experiences betrayal at some point. The degree of it can range from the child who has just realized that Santa isn’t real to the person who has discovered that their spouse is being unfaithful to them all the way to being physically or sexually assaulted by someone you know and trusted.
Standing in the aftermath, how do we respond? What is our first gut instinct? How does God say we should handle betrayal?
Dr. Drew Randle, professor at Bryan College, analyzed the Bible’s most prominent example of this difficult life experience. “…Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders. The mental anguish caused by the betrayal of Judas, one of Jesus' disciples and closest friends, is an often overlooked aspect of Jesus' suffering. He had invested in Judas. He loved Judas. He cared intensely for Judas. He was discouraged. He hurt. He felt pain. He wept.
“Just like we respond in moments of betrayal.
“The preliminary stages of Judas' betrayal are recorded in Matthew 26:14-16. Several questions come to mind…. But the question I asked myself in the wake of my betrayal was: What internal anguish did Jesus feel, grappling with the reality that Judas had sold him out?
“We often respond to abandonment or betrayal in anger, by dwelling on the circumstances. We often seek to get even or make our betrayers suffer intensely for how they've wronged us. Through Jesus' example, though, we see a proper model of how to handle betrayal.”
While Judas’s betrayal certainly gets a lot of the limelight in movies or discussions, Jesus also experienced other betrayals. All of his closest friends deserted him, and in Peter’s case, denied even knowing him.
While the Bible does not give us insight into Jesus’ emotions and thoughts in the wake of these betrayals, it does give us a clear picture of how Jesus responded.
Dealing With Our Own Judas
In his book When to Walk Away, Gary Thomas talks about how many of us have one of two reactions to damaging people. One is to assume something is wrong with us and cling to the relationship tighter and tighter each time we’re hurt. The other is to chase that poisonous person — and everyone else — out of our lives with the biggest stick we can find.
If our tendency is the former, Thomas notes, “Some of you may, like me, come across a toxic person who—as an analogy—has horrendous breath, and if you’re like me, your first thought is, ‘What’s wrong with my nose? God, would you please heal my nose? I don’t want to think that this person stinks. Probably I’m being too sensitive or setting this person off. Please, fix me.’
“But the problem isn’t your nose. The problem is the toxic person’s bad breath. Your nose is actually God’s protection, telling you there’s a problem and to stay (or walk) away.”
Some people betray our trust and demonstrate that they are not healthy individuals to have in our lives. Perhaps we saw earlier warning signs, or perhaps they put on a good enough façade that they fooled us, but either way, we now see their true colors, and the relationship isn’t worth keeping.
Jesus didn’t run after Judas and beg him not to go to the Pharisees. Jesus didn’t send any of the other disciples after Judas to try to smooth over the relationship.
Neither did he fall into the opposite extreme. He didn’t immediately start bashing Judas the moment that the man stepped outside. He didn’t try to convince all of the other disciples that they needed to take his side in this situation. He didn’t send all of the disciples away in order to nurse his pain alone.
When we’ve recently experienced a betrayal, we may easily swing to one extreme or the other. If we follow Christ’s example, though, we don’t put the relationship’s survival or our pain in the driver’s seat. A heart focused on God’s purposes in our lives will forgive a toxic person, allow them to go their own way and not allow us to be derailed by preservation attempts or revenge.
Finding Healing With the Peters
Peter also betrayed Jesus, and he did it right in front of Jesus. “Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:60-62, ESV).
Right on the heels of Judas’s terrible betrayal, Peter publicly rejects Jesus and then realizes what he’s done. The pain on both sides of this moment are so intense in this passage.
We may be betrayed by a friend like Peter, someone who caves to social pressure, who is silent when we need their support, who reacts poorly because of past hurts or fears or their own bad past relationships. When this happens, we have a choice to condemn them or restore the damaged friendship.
In an adaptation from Howard E. Butt’s book Who Can You Trust?: Overcoming Betrayal and Fear, he encourages believers, “Take an honest look at yourself. Ask God to show you the hard truth about your own tendencies toward sin. Consider the times you may have made a commitment only to back out later, been disloyal, deceived yourself or someone else, rebelled against authority, or presented different personas to different people instead of acting the same with everyone.
“Understand that every person — including you — in our fallen world is capable of betrayal. But also know that God stands ready to help everyone live with more integrity. Don't get stuck blaming others for your problems. Remember that you can't control what other people do, but you can choose how you react to them. Rely on God to help you learn how to respond to others in healthy ways.
“Also ask Him to show you how your past is affecting your present attitudes and actions. Know that God is with you in the midst of your pain and will help you heal.”
Forgiveness is so hard, but God commanded it because he knew it would set us free from grudges, pain and the past.