Most of us have suffered the wounds of betrayal in some form or another—by a parent, a spouse, fellow believers, etc. The commonality in all these cases is that we expected or hoped to be safe. Depending on the love of others is crucial to progressing and persevering in this world. When such safety is betrayed, we suffer grave wounds and struggle to regain our balance, let alone forgive.
We have plenty of examples of betrayal in Scripture. David speaks of the betrayal of parents (Ps. 27:10) and that of friends (Ps. 41:9). The whole book of Hosea chronicles how the Lord’s prophet is called to respond to the unfaithfulness and betrayal of his wife. How do we lift these wounds up to the Lord for healing so that we can forgive those who betray us?
First, we must own that others have sinned against us.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending the offense didn’t happen. This is trickier than it seems because we’re often tempted to excuse our betrayers and condemn ourselves. If I had been a more obedient child, considerate spouse, or godly Christian, this wouldn’t have happened to me, we may think. We’re often more willing to accept false guilt than to endure the ugly process of grief that must ensue. Perhaps the sin committed is truly that grievous.
At this point, counselors are exceptionally helpful because they help us pull apart these complex and entangled feelings to get at the real issues. Are you excusing those who hurt you? Why? What do you believe about yourself, God’s holiness, and the nature of his grace?
Second, we must establish boundaries if they aren’t already in place.
Real love doesn’t allow others to continually deface the image of God in you. Does your parent continue to shame you as they did when you were a child? Does your spouse continue to hurt you? Are certain Christians no longer worthy of your confidences because of their gossip? You’re allowed to say, “No more.” You can adjust your boundaries according to how they are presently respected.
One key marker for how you interact with those who have wounded you is that of repentance. True repentance recognizes both the offense and the wound it created. The offender is willing to weaken him or herself in order to make you feel safer in their presence. This enables you to relate to them in a way that not only helps enable forgiveness, but reconciliation as well. Of course, wisdom might dictate that some boundaries stay in place for the good of both offender and victim.
Third, we must own our hearts before God and forgive regardless of repentance.
This can be a long, drawn-out process, but it’s what the Lord requires of us. He didn’t make his forgiveness in Jesus contingent upon our repentance—rather, it became the ground for our repentance. You’re not responsible for another’s repentance, but you are responsible for your own. The Lord doesn’t excuse my sin because of the sin of another. I need his forgiveness as well.
While you need to carefully process your pain, anger, and grief, you must allow no root of bitterness to spring up in your heart. In our suffering, it’s so easy to sin and fuel the anger that obscures the love of God for us in Christ Jesus. In part, this is why boundaries are so important. They enable us to say no to patterns of sin while still allowing room for grace towards those who have sinned against us.
Finally, we must recognize that forgiveness is a powerful, transforming act.
The first season of the show Ted Lasso offers a simple example of this: Throughout that show, Ted has trusted someone who was conspiring against him and causing him pain. When she finally confesses her sin, expecting wrath, Ted responds with those beautiful and simple words, “I forgive you.” She weeps in the face of such forgiveness.
Perhaps that’s because forgiveness touches upon something truly transcendent. Jesus’s mother regarded him as a crazy person (Mark 3), but he loved her from the cross (John 19:26-27). His bride, the church, was unfaithful for all of human history, but he wept for her and died for her. His followers all failed him on the day of his crucifixion (not just Judas), yet he loved them and used them to perpetuate the church through all generations.
Can you imagine what it was like to be that thief hanging next to Jesus—dying underneath his trespasses (with a sign hanging over him announcing his sin), and crying out to Jesus? He had nothing he could offer to Jesus. He could only hope that Jesus might remember him in his kingdom. The rest is history (Luke 23:43). Forgiveness brings life from death. It has the power to reduce the fortresses of entrenched sin. It directs us to the God whose forgiveness forever changed the world, and us with it.