What We Can Learn from Betrayal
Here’s the truth …
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20 NIV).
Betrayal. Feels like I’m typing a swear word. And whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” had to be smoking crack. I’d much rather be pelted with objects, because flesh can heal; but when you hear lies being told about you, the emotional healing seems absolutely impossible.
Well, I was betrayed seven months ago. Since the number of completion in the Bible is seven, I figured it’s time to address it and move forward. Dr. Tony Evans, whose podcasts I listen to from The Urban Alternative, says that we’re not supposed to spend too much time when we drive looking in the rear-view mirror, or we’ll obviously crash! So, in that spirit, I'm ready to forgive. Yes, I’m human. I’m finally ready. I spent the last seven months wanting a building to crumble on my betrayer with him inside of it. Don’t judge.
Why do Christians betray each other? Seems like it should be an oxymoron, huh? Like the two words, betray and Christian, should never be in the same sentence. My pastor made an excellent point recently about this very topic. He said that it’s very hard to remember the names of all 12 of Jesus’s disciples. Three of them, though, come to mind quite easily, don’t they? Let’s say them together: Peter, Thomas, and Judas. Isn’t it interesting that the ones who disappointed our Lord are the ones who are the easiest to remember? There is a lot to be learned, though, from these Biblical examples.
Take, for example, Peter’s denial of even knowing Jesus not just once, not twice, but three times. You’d think he would have been on guard for it because Jesus told him when it was going to happen: “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me” (Matthew 26:34 NLT). Peter, however, did what we all do. We worry about our current circumstances more than about our relationship with Jesus. We let those circumstances dictate how we are going to handle our situations when we should be keeping our focus on Him. Peter took the easy way out, but Jesus forgave him anyway (John 21:15-17).
Take, now, Thomas. We all know him for “doubting” that the person who had returned was actually the resurrected Jesus. He needed to see the holes in Jesus’s crucified hands to believe (John 20:24-29). Such doubt gave Jesus the opportunity to remind us that even though we feel like we can’t see Him, He is right there, always in our midst. In all fairness, Thomas was not the only “doubter.” We learn from multiple places that when the disciples (plural) were told of Jesus’s resurrection, they did not believe it. Mark says, “But when [Mary Magdalene] told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen Him, they didn’t believe her” (Mark 16:11 NLT). And when two followers walked with Him to the village of Emmaus and rushed back to Jerusalem to tell others, “no one believed them” (Mark 16:13 NLT). Then, in Luke, we learn that when Jesus appeared as the two were sharing the news with the disciples, “the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:37 NLT). Jesus even said to the group, “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me” (Luke 24:38-39a NLT). So Thomas gets the reputation for doubting when they all doubted! Isn’t that sometimes true when people disappoint us? One person gets the brunt of our blame, even though many might have contributed.
Finally, take Judas. We learn that: “Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present” (Luke 22:4-6 NIV). This would be considered premeditated betrayal for sure! Hard to believe that this was all part of God’s plan, but ever think about how evil is placed into your path for reasons you couldn’t possibly fathom at the time? Perhaps you got a flat tire because, if you hadn’t, you would have gotten into a horrible accident ahead? Perhaps you were passed over for a job due to nepotism. If you hadn’t been, though, you would never be experiencing the amazing job you have now that you wouldn’t have sought if you were in the other one. We would all be headed for hell when we die, but because of Jesus and His betrayer, we have the opportunity to spend eternity in heaven. This is clearly what Joseph meant when he uttered these words centuries earlier: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20 NIV).
Such words are exactly what I can tell my betrayer, too. God really provided for my family despite the actions of this person. We are far better off because of the betrayal than we would have been had we been pacified. Yes, you read that correctly. Betrayal can be a good thing in the long run. It’s all about your perspective. And sometimes it takes a while to come to that conclusion.
Don’t get me wrong … if the unfair actions of another go by unpunished and you are not okay with that, realize that you are human and need to grieve the anger and sadness that you feel. King David modeled this grieving process for us in Psalm 109. A stance of bitterness that ensues, however, cannot or should not last long if we really want to be followers of Jesus. I have been living in that stance for seven months, and it’s time to move on from it. I read recently that if I keep hanging onto the resentment, it’s like drinking poison myself but waiting for the other person to die from it! Yikes! You simply cannot wait for the person to be punished for betraying you before you forgive. Trust me … you will be waiting a long, long while if that’s the case!
Probably the best thing you can do when someone hurts you is to follow Stephen’s example in the Bible. Unlike the disciples mentioned earlier who used their current circumstances to decide their actions and words, Stephen did not let the betrayal happening to him define his response. Stephen was surrounded by an angry mob, but instead of looking at what was in front of him, he “gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand” (Acts 7:55 NLT). Later, when the people stoned him, Stephen prayed for his spirit to be received and then “fell to his knees, shouting, ‘Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!’” (Acts 7:60 NLT). Obviously, his focus was not on seeking justice for his betrayers nor was it on trying to shield himself from the pain of his current circumstances. His only focus was eternal thinking, not present-day comfort. This is a very hard stance to take when you are recovering from a betrayal, but I was convicted when I read it that I need to have compassion for my betrayer in the same way. Prayer and forgiveness are the answers.
God allows evil things to happen, and betrayals were recorded in the Bible for a reason. We can think that we are holy and that we don’t cause others any pain, but we’d be sadly mistaken. Christians or not, all of us are human. We are not immune from betraying others; and when we are betrayed, we need to follow Jesus’s example (and Stephen’s too) and forgive those who “know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 ESV).
… and that’s the truth as I know it.