Betrayal is a gross violation of trust and can be one of the most devastating forms of pain inflicted upon a human being. The suffering of betrayal is often magnified by a sense of vulnerability and exposure. For many, the pain of betrayal is worse than physical violence, deceit, or prejudice. Betrayal destroys the foundation of trust.
David was no stranger to betrayal: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God” (Psalm 55:12-14). The closer the relationship, the greater the pain of betrayal.
Jesus knew the pain of betrayal firsthand. The worst, most treacherous betrayal of all time was Judas’s betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15). “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9,; cf. John 13:18). But Jesus did not become vindictive, bitter, or angry. Just the opposite. After receiving the traitor’s kiss, Jesus addressed Judas as “friend” (Matthew 26:50).
Despite the pain, there is a way we can overcome betrayal. The power comes directly from God and the strength of forgiveness.
After David laments a broken trust in Psalm 55, he hints at how to overcome the pain. He says, “But I call to God, and the LORD saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and He hears my voice” (Psalm 55:16-17).
The first key is to cry out to God. Though we may want to strike out at the betrayer, we need to take our cause to the Lord. “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
Another key in overcoming the pain of betrayal is to remember Jesus’ example. Our sinful nature impels us to “repay evil with evil,” but Jesus taught us otherwise: “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . . Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:39, 44). When Jesus “was abused, he did not return abuse” (1 Peter 2:23). We should conform to His example by not repaying abuse for abuse, including the abuse of betrayal. Believers are to do good even to those who harm them. [Please note that this does not mean proper criminal justice in cases of abuse, business violations, etc. should not be sought. However, seeking of such justice should not be motivated for a desire for vengeance.]
Another powerful key in overcoming the bitterness of betrayal is our God-given ability to forgive the betrayer. The word forgiveness includes the word give. When we choose to forgive someone, we actually give that person a gift—the freedom from personal retaliation. But you are also giving yourself a gift—a “grudge-free life.” Trading our bitterness and anger for the love of God is a wonderful, life-giving exchange.
Jesus taught that “loving our neighbor as ourselves” should be proactive: “But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Without question, it is enormously difficult to forgive a person who’s betrayed our trust. It is only possible with God (see Luke 18:27).
Those who have experienced God’s love understand what it means to be loved unconditionally and undeservedly. Only with the help of God’s Spirit can we love and pray for those who seek to do us harm (Romans 12:14-21).