Betrayal shatters trust like a rock through a picture window. And it often comes with little warning. Seemingly, in an instant, life, as assumed, dissolves.

None of our responses to betrayal are trivial. 

In the language of psychology, “the effects of betrayal include shock, loss and grief, morbid preoccupation, damaged self-esteem, self-doubting, anger. Not infrequently, they produce life-altering changes.”

I am acquainted with these as both betrayer and one betrayed.

Betrayal was a crucial element in my estrangement from my son. As the crack travelled down my heart, the refrain was “How could he?” even though my mind knows the other reality.

To an opioid addict, the need overpowers any sense of love or loyalty. In fact, one of the crushing realities of addiction is that betrayal and love are not connected.

Perhaps it is the same with passion. Nothing else exists on the screen.

Many forms of Betrayal

Betrayal can come in many forms: dishonesty, disloyalty, abandonment, infidelity, a loss of support merited and expected. Individuals and institutions betray.

In the story of Good Friday, I feel some sympathy with Judas. Although almost universally cast as the bad guy, I can imagine he thought he was acting for the greater good. Though details are sketchy, the possibility exists that the history of Judas lay with the Zealots.

The Zealots were a revolutionary political movement that sought to incite rebellion against Rome. Who knows? Perhaps Judas thought the kiss identifying Jesus to the soldiers in Gethsemane would spark Jesus to take up the sword and assume the role of the Revolutionary Messiah. Or, failing that, perhaps the crowds who lined the streets of Jerusalem with palm branches would rise, inflamed by the injustice of his arrest? The 30 pieces of silver were irrelevant. 

I don’t know the degree to which I am fabricating a back story for Judas of my liking, but I do know that I am often able to portray my own acts of betrayal as a duty or even as good, even life-sustaining, life-enhancing. 

Even if a thread of truth exists in the cloak I wrap around the deed; still, trust was shattered and lives irrevocably altered. 

Betrayal and Grief

Betrayal engenders a certain kind of grief. At times, grief cuts deep, leaving rugged scars in conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Many betrayals mark my relationship with the church over the years. So now, there are limits to how much “church” I can handle, how much of particular religious rhetoric I can endure before being triggered. 

I have no stones to throw. The more life-important questions now are how shall I live, as either the betrayed or the betrayer?

In those instances in which I have inflicted pain, I can only offer confession and yearn for forgiveness. From a Christian perspective, the matter of whether I deserve it is moot. For some amazing reason buried only in the heart of God, God grants forgiveness and leads toward a new life.

As one betrayed, though, I often cannot will myself to be as gracious as God. Perhaps I should, but I cannot. At least immediately. For trust, as the saying goes, is like paper, once crumpled, it can never be the same again. 

Perhaps I am simply too stubborn or sensitive, but the process of rebuilding trust, whether as betrayed or betrayer, can be long and tortuous. In some cases, I simply am unwilling to put in the work. In others, though, the damage caused by nursing pain and hurt outweighs the difficulty of the spiritual task.

I find it interesting that a deed of betrayal assumes such a pivotal place in the central story of our faith. Perhaps it could not be otherwise. Ultimately God’s ability to forgive and bring new life out of what clearly are broken relationships and severed trust is the Easter story and the Easter message.

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