How can I forgive someone who betrays me? How can I heal the pain of betrayal?

Betrayal is one of the worst pains a person can encounter. For some, it's even worse than physical pain. If you have experienced betrayal, you already know this. It's a violation of a sacred trust that shakes your belief in that person (and sometimes humanity in general) to the core. When a friend or a loved one betrays us, it's as if everything is stripped away, and we're left exposed to the world. I think it's why the most evil villains are the ones who betray the hero.

We serve an amazing God, Who can and will help us overcome the pain of betrayal. Not only does our Lord and Savior want to give us freedom from this grief, He is no stranger to it Himself. Jesus encountered the most treacherous betrayal in all of history when Judas betrayed Him to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15).

What's most mindboggling about this is that Jesus knew Judas would betray him (John 13:18), and yet He did not become vindictive or angry. Instead He called Judas "friend" seconds before He knew He would be seized and taken away (Matthew 26:50). Hard as it is, this is a great example of how we should respond to betrayal.

What should I do when I'm betrayed by a friend?

The pain of betrayal can leave you in a fog, unsure what to do or where to go next, or if you can ever trust anyone again. This is when you should go to God in prayer. Cry out God. Tell Him everything. Don't leave anything out. Give Him the whole story, not just the part you want to believe and tell yourself (or your friends). Tell Him all of it. He hears you. He knows what you're going to say already, so just say it.

Don't worry about offending Him or hurting His feelings either. God can handle anything you throw at Him. David laments over a betrayal in Psalm 55:16-17, "As for me, I shall call upon God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice."

Even though it is so, so tempting to take our pain out on our betrayer, we need to go to the Lord with our anger. Remember Jesus' example (1 Peter 2:23) and how He taught. Our sinful nature wants to get even or make that person pay by taking revenge, but Jesus says to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39). He says to forgive them (Matthew 6:14-15). Even more, we are to pray for those who hurt us (Matthew 5:44)!

How can I forgive someone who betrayed me?

Pour out your heart to God, and ask for His strength in forgiving those who have betrayed you. This is one of those times where believers look so odd to the world, isn't it? This kind of action goes against what the world expects. Yet we are commanded to love those who hurt us and pray for them. But when you pray for the person who betrayed you, don't pray that they'll "get what's coming to them." ;-)

God knows all, and He will right all wrongs in the end. Instead, pray that the person who betrayed you will understand God as you know Him. We have been saved and are loved unconditionally and undeservedly by God; our job is to show that love to others (Matthew 5:44)—even those who betray us.

The Bitterness of Betrayal

Forgiveness is so important, because without forgiveness bitterness takes root in your heart. I have seen people who have had bitterness stored up in their heart for years, and it eats away at them as truly as any disease. When you forgive your betrayer, you are not only offering them the gift of forgiveness, you are setting yourself free from holding onto a grudge. You are exchanging a heart of bitterness and anger for one focused on God's love.

I know it isn't easy. Forgiving someone who has betrayed you is hard. For me, part of what's so hard is that I often get this fear in the back of my heart—fear that if I forgive a person and give my hurt over to God, that maybe He won't be able to remove my bitterness. But holding onto that fear keeps me from letting go of the hurt, and that only gets me more hurt in the process.

Even though it's hard, we have been promised that all things are possible with God (Luke 18:27). The same God who loved you so much that He gave you the life of His only Son, loves you enough to take care of this hurt.

Like that old hymn that says, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." You can trust God and know that He loves you enough to take care of you. And when you pray for those who hurt you, pray that they will understand that they are loved in the same way God loves you.

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Heidi Joelle is professional minion by day and a writer, editor, and reader by night. She can be coaxed from the house by the sound of a good adventure, or traveling somewhere new. Her Saint Bernard, Smokey, and problem-solving cat, Diamond, bring extra joy to daily life.