(circa 2000, interacting with a section from the book I mention)
If you are in relationship with people, whether at home, church or work, it is impossible to avoid betrayal.
“Essentially, betrayal is the breaking of an implied or stated commitment of care” (Dan Allender, The Healing Path).
This means that betrayal involves a broken commitment to guard your well-being. It can come from a friend who shares your darkest secret. Or a co-worker who steals your work. Betrayal opens the door for us to grow in faith, if we do not avoid all it brings with it.
Betrayal comes on different levels. The damage caused by a break of confidence is less than that caused by a parent who abuses their child emotionally or sexually. But the relationship intended to bring blessing has now brought harm.
The betrayal does not remain a private affair, but soon spreads to the community. There is no way to keep a fight between two people isolated– others inevitably become involved. This could be as simple as hearing one’s complaint, or as complicated as taking up one’s cause against the other to repay the damage.
Betrayal forces us to make choices. We can deny the damage done to us. Many choose this path. Others recognize the damage, and use it as an excuse to justify their sins against the perpetrator. The best option is to recognize the damage, and then marvel at the faithfulness of God in contrast to our instability.
What damage is done? First, our sense of identity is taken apart. As relational creatures, our identity is composed of our various relationships. When one is broken, it casts a shadow of doubt upon the rest of them. Will they betray me too? This doubt eats away our relationships because the life we thought existed, doesn’t.
Our initial response is to blame ourselves. We should have seen it coming. Or perhaps we failed first, prompting this person’s sin. We enter a period of self contempt or blame. I was there when (an ex-)girlfriend left. “Am I so stupid that I couldn’t see this coming? The signs were all there, why did I give her my heart?”
For better or worse, we do not stop there. We soon move to believing that someone must pay. We desire revenge for the wrongs done to us. I always think of Kenny, the stuttering thief from A Fish Called Wanda, clearly crying “REVENGE!” as he drives a steamroller over his tormenter Otto.
Since our hearts are deceptive, we do not always direct our rage at the one who hurt us in the first place. It could be easy for me to make my next girlfriend pay for the wrongs of past girlfriends. Severely abused people often don’t recognize how they harm those around them, or themselves. This is particularly true with sexual abuse. The victims often become perpetrators themselves, or destroy themselves through eating disorders or promiscuity. The initial betrayal is not an excuse of later sinful choices, but we begin to understand why. Then we address the broken parts of a person to bring restoration as well as repentance.
Then, at last, comes numbness. We no longer care. This is where most of us end up. Life, so to speak, goes on hold. We stop caring about just about everything. “Yeah, sure. Whatever you want.” The pain overwhelms us, and we go on autopilot. We stop living, but not functioning.
It is here that we lose faith. God no longer seems faithful and true. We forget the abundance of times He has been good to us. Our legitimate desires go unmet, and our faith shrinks. We enter into autopilot with God as well. We don’t stray outwardly, but our hearts are numb towards him. We become legalistic and distant. “God failed me. It doesn’t pay to pursue him.” We become stuck; powerless and ambivalent.
This is the place where God invites us to see our idolatry. We expect others to be what only God can be for us. No one, and nothing, has the ability to perfectly meet our needs (much less our desires). When forgiveness can’t be extended, I must recognize I have not given them the freedom to fail. I expect them to be perfect– and only God is perfect. I have also made God into something He is not. He does not exist to meet my every desire. He’s no genie in the bottle to grant my wishes. I worship a false god, which is also idolatry. In my idolatry, I make myself an enemy of God (James 4:1-4).
I never ceased to be amazed at how God orchestrates circumstances to reveal myself to me. It happened on the way back from GA. A “quick” stop for gas turned into a nightmare. I was angry and petty. The next day I could see just how demanding I was. I saw my need to having things go the way I want them to go. In short, I was humbled by a glimpse of my utter sinfulness. This was my invitation to repent of my idolatry. Part of me hates that I am powerless to “keep” a girlfriend (whatever that means), prevent an elder from resigning, etc. My longing to be god is exposed.
This is good! For God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5, 6). This humbling brings me to the throne of grace, where I can find mercy, strength and grace from a faithful God. One faithful enough to wound me and then heal me. I walk what Allender calls the “healing path”, the road of sanctification.
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