I’ve been hurt a lot in my lifetime. There are some that know the whole story from start to finish. My lifelong best friend is one of them. She has prayed me through so many trials. She has prayed blessings, forgiveness, insight, and so much more over me in the 20 years we’ve been friends. Forgiveness has been the top need for prayer in my life. Not just me needing forgiveness but me needing to offer forgiveness. There a a lot of things to need forgiveness for and a lot of things to offer forgiveness for. Some are easier to forgive or ask forgiveness for, others make it hard to swallow our pride.
I want to discuss forgiveness after a betrayal. First, what do I mean by betrayal? Well, this isn’t high school best friend or boyfriend drama I’m referring to, although depending on your age, I guess it could apply. I’m talking about adult relationships, marriage, close or best friends, ministry partners, and family betrayals. Betray is defined in Webster’s dictionary: to give information about (a person, group, country, etc.) to an enemy, :to hurt (someone who trusts you, such as a friend or relative) by not giving help or by doing something morally wrong.
So with that in mind, we can discuss what true betrayal can look and feel like in our lives. It could be a cheating spouse, a best friend who tells a secret we confided in them, or lies that take place within a family. Many situations can lead us to feel betrayed by the ones we love. Betrayal is an action that can cause a gut wrenching, fold over and sob feeling. It can lead us to cry out to God to reverse time and take the pain away. It’s feeling like we have had a bad dream and then waking up to realize this is our new reality. When this has all happened, we are left with two choices, to forgive or to hold in the bitterness and anger.
Honestly, sometimes it is easier, especially at first, to just hold it all in. We don’t want anyone to know what has happened in our life, we don’t want to talk to the person who has betrayed us, we don’t want to act like anything has changed. We are hurt and we are somehow hoping that it will just go away, time will rewind, and everything will just go back to the way it was yesterday before it happened or before we found out it was happening.
I have experienced betrayal of many kinds. Each one was a time when I spent days and nights crying. Some days were constant tears. Some nights were sleepless and filled with tears, questions and fear of tomorrow. Some days were spent trying to figure out a way to make the betrayal not seem so bad, explaining it away for myself and for others. I know most have experienced this at some point. If you haven’t, take notes, because everyone will at one point or another experience betrayal.
So how do we make sense of it all? And for goodness sake, how do we forgive such an action? This can become especially hard to forgive if it is a reoccurring betrayal. Has anyone been part of that? A betrayal that happens over and over again? Do we really have to forgive such a heinous thing? Certainly, the statement, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” applies here, right? Well…
If I told you that forgiving betrayal, whether a one time betrayal or reoccurring betrayal, is the same as forgiving a small white lie or a disagreement with a spouse, you’d probably say I’m crazy, right? Sorry to disappoint you here with such a simplistic answer but scripture says its the same. Matthew 18:21-22 says we are to forgive over and over. You will see this statement a lot in my writing, “If scripture says it, it’s truth.” Whether you accept that simplistic answer or not, doesn’t change the truth of it. Scripture says 7×70 times we are to forgive. So are we to count 490 times and then no more? Of course not! As my pastor put it in a recent sermon, “This was Christ’s way of saying stop counting!”
There are things that will take longer to get over and move past when betrayed versus just a white lie. And although we should always strive to reconcile each relationship, there are certain betrayals that will end a relationship. So, if we end the relationship does that mean that forgiveness isn’t necessary? According to Matthew 18:35, forgiveness isn’t an option unless you want to be the guy in the parable in verses 23-34. Read it. You don’t want to be him!
So when is forgiveness to be offered or sought? Should we wait until it is asked for? Whether you are the betrayer or the betrayed, forgiveness needs to happen as soon as possible. Ephesians 4:32 says we are to forgive as Christ forgave us. When you are betrayed it is unlikely that true forgiveness will be sought right after the betrayal happens. The betrayer is unlikely to be truly sorry (other than for getting caught) right after the sin is revealed. This is not the case in every situation, so be careful in your assumption here. The betrayed is also unlikely to be ready to hear the confession and offer forgiveness without time to process the sin. But what happens in the in between? In my experience, I found it helpful to state out loud to the Lord, “I will forgive as you have commanded me.” Now, God knows that forgiveness for us, especially when it includes the restoration of a relationship, takes time. We are not God and we cannot cast sin as far as the east is from the west. And God doesn’t expect us to. He does expect forgiveness though. And again we see in Colossians 3:13, it says, “…forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Notice a pattern on these forgiving verses?
I do believe that stating that we will forgive in the very beginning is helpful for our heart as well as the heart of the others involved. We must choose forgiveness right away even if we don’t feel it because forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a choice. Just like love!
In the situation I faced with my ex-husband, I did not forgive right away, or at least I didn’t feel the forgiveness right away. I did, however, decide very early on that I would forgive him.
I think society has come to believe that we must work through all our feelings before forgiveness is offered. This is actually false. Forgiveness again, is not a feeling, it is an action and a choice. We have to let God work in our hearts to bring us to a place of restoration and to bring our feelings into check, but offering forgiveness right away is knowing that at one point, God will heal us from our hurt.
So, does forgiveness mean restoration? Sadly, it doesn’t in every case. While scripture is clear that we are to seek to restore every relationship (Colossians 3:12-14, 1 Peter 4:8, Matthew 18:15) restoration does take two who are both willing to restore. We tend to put forgiveness and restoration into the same event, and they are far different. Forgiving someone of what they have done is to not hold a grudge and to love them in spite of the action or betrayal. Restoration is defined as: the act or process of returning something to its original condition by repairing it, cleaning it, the act of bringing back something that existed before, the act of returning something that was stolen or taken. Sadly, in our sinful world, restoration is not always a possibility. Please pay close attention here! Restoration should always be sought and should always be our goal! There are circumstances in our sinful world that will destroy trust, break bonds, vows, and tear friendships apart. While it would be wonderful to see those relationships all restored, it does not always happen that way. That is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for this. It simply means that there are certain cases where it will not happen. This does not change the need for forgiveness, nor does it change the command in scripture to forgive.
Forgiveness can be one sided. Restoration is two sided. Once forgiveness is offered, it is done, whether it is accepted or asked for, it can be one sided. Restoration, is always two sided, actually, three sided, when you do it the right way with God at the center of it. If one chooses not to restore, go figure, there’s no restoration. Relationships will change in the face of betrayal. Especially in the event of a reoccurring betrayal. There are many times it becomes necessary to change or even end the relationship; whether that be for physical or mental safety.
Think of some betrayals you have experienced in your life. Are any of them close to Saul betraying David, Gomer betraying Hosea over and over again, Judas betraying Jesus? What examples scripture gives us of forgiveness and restoration! While David forgave Saul for his betrayal, their relationship was never restored and Saul never truly sought forgiveness from David. Hosea went after his prostitute wife time after time as she went back to her whoring ways. Jesus, the ultimate example, knew that Judas would betray him long before he did. Jesus had already forgiven him for his betrayal before it even took place. He died to pay the sin debt for Judas and for all of us!
So how do we forgive betrayal? We forgive betrayal by knowing that Christ has commanded us to forgive. Christ forgave us of so much more than we will ever forgive anyone else of. I can’t state this perfectly but will do my best…Forgiveness is a heart action! Restoration is the physical aspect of fixing the relationship. Restoration can take years. It is a constant work that must come from both people involved in the betrayal. Forgiveness is to be given no matter the feelings we have. Christ forgave us even before we asked for the forgiveness. He isn’t sitting around contemplating his feelings on the matter of our sin before he decides if he can forgive us or not! That is what he asks us to do. Forgive right away! Restoration of our relationship with Jesus can only take place when we are willing to seek it. It is no different with our earthly relationships. Christ’s model is the one we should follow in every aspect of our lives and he forgave our betrayal, so how much more should we forgive?