By Ken Gurley
Comments: A pastor’s ministry behind the pulpit is just that: pastoral. While a pastor usually relishes the opportunity to preach the Gospel and to do the work of an evangelist, much of his preaching revolves around the Christian life and growing in the graces and virtues of the Spirit. Consequently, forgiveness is a common theme in any pastor’s preaching.
We must forgive when we feel betrayed. A root of bitterness springs freely from the feelings of betrayal. If it is not caught in time, it will destroy us. Yet, if in the face of betrayal, forgiveness is practiced, the image of Christ takes shape rapidly in our lives.
This message haunts me. I want to live in a country called Forgiveness beyond the Valley of Betrayal. Unfortunately each of us must travel through that valley before we know the beauty of the region beyond.
A few weeks ago, on a lonely parcel of land some one hundred miles from San Antonio, Texas, a grisly discovery was made. The charred remains of three individuals were found. Just this week, the identities of the bodies were confirmed. DNA evidence suggests that one of these three individuals was a woman named Madalyn Murray O’Hair. Her name sends shivers down the spine of godly people. She was called the “Most Hated Woman in America,” and “Antichrist in a House Dress.”
She plotted the successful fight to remove prayer from public schools. Boasting of her success, she said, “We find the Bible to be nauseating, historically inaccurate, replete with the ravings of madmen. We find God to be sadistic, brutal and a representation of hatred and vengeance. We find the Lord’s Prayer to be that muttered by worms groveling for meager existence in a traumatic, paranoid world.”
But, outside of this one triumph for atheism, she lived a pathetic life. Her diaries were recently revealed. In one entry, while riding the crest of her success, she wrote, “I want money and power and I am going to get it. By age 50 I want a $60,000 home, a Cadillac car, a mink coat, a cook, a housekeeper. In 1974, I will run for the governor of Texas and in 1976, the president of the United States.” By 1977, however, she wrote, “I think atheism is done for this time. I have failed in marriage, motherhood, as a politician…. At age 58, I have never had a bedroom of my own.”
In 1995, Ms. O’Hair, her son and her granddaughter disappeared. Gone with her was a half-million dollars in gold coins. The story of her disappearance is not pretty. A trusted co-worker in the American Atheists Office appears to have abducted her and her family. She was somehow forced to take the money from the bank. Then, she and her two family members were carried to a deserted site, killed, dismembered, burned, and then buried. Betrayal!
May I read to you from the personal diary of someone else who experienced a similar betrayal? He wasn’t the director of the American Atheists Office; he was a king, the king of Israel:
For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked unto the house of God in company. Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them. As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.
Unlike Ms. O’Hair, King David knew a God who cared. He possessed—
The Answer for All Betrayals
There have been great betrayals in history and in literature:
- Brutus’ betrayal of Julius Caesar;
- Lancelot’s duplicity with King Arthur;
- Benedict Arnold’s unfaithfulness to George Washington;
- Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of our Lord.
Each earns the name, ‘traitor.’ Each was motivated by personal gain, vengeance, or misplaced loyalties. Each drew close to the person betrayed, then from striking distance, hurt them.
Scripture contains the story of one of the greatest betrayals of all time. A friend named Ahithophel betrayed King David. The story is not like the single dimensioned characters of some modern novel, it is as deep and complex as life itself.
Let’s pick up the story midstream with Absalom’s return to Israel. Absalom, one of David’s sons, had vindicated his sister’s honor and killed his half-brother, Amnon. He had fled into exile and David was persuaded to allow this stunningly handsome, charismatic young man to return to Jerusalem.
Upon his return, Absalom began a whispering campaign against his father. For four years, he practiced his treachery. He sent chariot teams before him into the city announcing his approach. He stood at the gates of the city and intercepted people who came for an audience with the king, and told them that no one cared for them. The Bible says, “he stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (II Samuel 15:6).
Finally, the stage was set for his takeover. Absalom marshaled his forces in Hebron and staged the coup. David got the news and fled the city with his faithful followers. At the base of the Mount of Olives, David removed his shoes and climbed barefoot up the rocky slopes. There, the king covered his face and wept.
The bad news soon grew worse. Not only had David’s son betrayed him, but, it appeared that his friend, Ahithophel, was the mastermind behind Absalom’s rebellion. Ahithophel! An advisor, a comrade, a friend betrayed David.
This is the bleak backdrop of Psalm 55. From feelings of betrayal, David began to write. His turbulent emotions reflect in the words found there:
“It’s not an enemy who attacks me — I could bear that. It’s not someone who hates me — I could hide from him. But, Ahithophel, it’s you! You were my friend, my peer, and my advisor. It’s you! We spent countless hours together talking, confiding. Together, we walked to God’s house. We spent time together in the presence of God. Ahithophel, you betrayed me.”
- Betrayal is Common in Life.
As long as we live under the sun, betrayal will be with us. So common is betrayal that the psalmist cries out, “I said in my haste, all men are liars” (Psalm 116:11). Yes, the hurt of betrayal can cloud our vision to any truth, to any goodness, and to any love.
I don’t know how a man like Robert Hanssen can sell out his love for country. I don’t know how two people, who love each other, hurt each other so badly. Like sheep, we seem to go astray. Hearts wander, values crumble, grudges mount, and betrayal comes.
The simple truth of the matter is this: love can die when she feels betrayed. Once betrayed, love soon withers.
Love never dies a natural death.
It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source.
It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals.
It dies of illness and wounds;
It dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.
—Anals Nin (1903-77)
French-born American writer, diarist, “Winter of Artifice”
Ahithophel’s love for David died. It’s hard to bury a friend. It’s even harder to bury a friendship.
You can almost hear the notes of betrayal in Paul’s voice, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (II Timothy 4:10). A listening ear and a pondering heart can hear the hurt in Martha’s voice as well, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:21). Or, go no further than Christ’s words to Judas, “that thou doest, do quickly” (John 13:27).
Betrayal might be common in life, but we never expect it from our friends. A friend should lay down his life for you. “Greater love hath no man—” A friend should give you good advice. “Faithful are the wounds—” A friend should pray for you. “I will not sin in ceasing to pray—” A friend shouldn’t steal. A friend shouldn’t lie. A friend shouldn’t spread hurtful things. A friend shouldn’t intentionally try to damage you, your family, or your finances. Yet, betrayal at the hands of a friend is common enough.
- Some Faulty Cures for Betrayal
The world has her cures for betrayal. They are touted by Hollywood, endorsed by politicos and shared as remedies in the vast network of life.
Revenge is a method used by some. With an attitude that says, “They hurt me, I’ll hurt them,” they practice paybacks daily. Rather than turning the other cheek, they retaliate in kind fully intending to extract their pound of flesh. They fight fire with fire and there is nothing so warm as revenge.
Revenge is a certain season in Hell.
Vengeance is a double-edged sword without a handle. Taking matters into your own hands usually harms you worse than the person who offended you. Vengeance is a weapon that only belongs in Heaven’s arsenal. In our hands, it makes life into a burning hell.
Pretend it never happened. This is the second option people use regarding betrayal. The pacifists and the romantics amongst us don the ostrich outfit and stick their proverbial heads in the sand. Rather than risking the loss of a friendship or a marriage, they ignore the offense.
Emerson once defined success as this:
The Definition of Success
To laugh much; to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — this is to have succeeded.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82)
While I would certainly place knowing God at the first of this list, one element of success is found here: to endure the betrayal of false friends. When those close to you constantly betray you, they are false friends. They are people you allow to draw close to you who are destined to hurt you.
The Bible says, “Amnon had a friend.” That friend eventually cost him his life. Not all friends are true. The ones who aren’t should be avoided.
Become Bitter. Others don’t retaliate or retreat, they simply grow bitter, jaded, and crusted. Like the character in Stephen Crane’s story that sat beside the road eating his heart all the while saying, “I like it for it is bitter.” Betrayal leads some people to bitterness. Don’t let that be said of us. It’s no way to live. It’s no way to die.
- David’s Cure for Betrayal: Turn to God
Confucius argued that silence is a true friend that never betrays us. David disagreed. God was his ever-faithful friend.
In fact, David’s actions in this time of betrayal are a case study for all of us today. His behavior models the answer for all betrayals. Notice what he did when betrayed by Ahithophel.
First, David recognized his shortcomings. David did what Jesus did on the night of His betrayal — He ascended the Mount of Olives. Unlike Jesus, David was not sinless. He wept over his own shortcomings.
We didn’t start this story with Ahithophel at the beginning. We started with Absalom, but actually it goes back farther. It goes back beyond David’s dismissive attitude regarding Absalom’s showy behavior. It goes further than David’s reluctance to discipline his son Amnon. It reaches back to a certain year when other kings were in battle, but David tarried in Jerusalem. Yes, it goes back to David’s sin with Bathsheba and the sword that was prophesied to never depart from his own house.
Some believe that Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather. If so, the story of betrayal might have begun with David’s moral lapse.
Most of us have a stubborn streak of self-righteousness that appears when we feel betrayed. It helps to stop and consider our own shortcomings at this time. Everyone who climbs the mount of self-examination climbs barefoot. All of us are vulnerable to failure.
Atop this mount, we can ask ourselves questions. What did I do to contribute to this? Did I ignore the warning signals? Did my idealism obscure the reality? Did my emotions get carried away? Was there something I said or did that caused someone to feel unduly threatened? Am I a true friend to others? Not bad questions to shout down the canyons from the mount of self-examination. Until we repent of wrongdoings, we prohibit God from answering our prayers.
Second, David withdrew from conflict. There are some battles we can’t fight. David retired into the wilderness. By so doing, he allowed God to move. In fact, God won’t move into a situation, until we’re willing to move out of it.
It’s good advice: let go and let God… Trusted friends brought the ark to David, he let go of it and said, “Take it back.” Good friends came to David in the form of Hushai, Ittai, and Mephibosheth. He turned them back. While it comforted him that they came, each friend turned back was evidence to God, “I’m not looking for self-approval; I’m seeking Your approval.”
Third, David placed the situation in God’s hands. It is perhaps one of the most powerful cries in all of the psalms. David says:
As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.
David couldn’t bear it, and he couldn’t run from it. All he could do was call on God and believe that the Lord would hear him and save him.
It’s safe to say that the Lord knows how you feel.
He knows what it’s like to be kissed, then crucified.
He knows how you feel when no one speaks up in your defense.
He knows how unfair life can be.
He knows how it feels to hear “Hosanna” one moment and “Crucify Him” the next.
Since He knows, tell Him and only Him. Tell Him how you feel.
See if there is no comfort there.
See if the balm of Gilead will not flow again.
See if the wounds won’t heal.
See if He won’t mend again a broken heart.
See if He won’t be an ever-present, faithful friend.
Something else of note was found repetitively in Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s diary. Over and over, she wrote, “Somebody, somewhere, love me” (National Catholic Register, January 24-30, 1999, p. 2).
How sad to be betrayed, but sadder still to have no one to call upon. Don’t vanquish God from your world in these times. Cast all your cares upon Him. He does care for you. He’s the answer for all of life’s betrayals.
This article “The Answer for All Betrayals” was excerpted from the book Preaching for a New Millennium written by Ken Gurley. It may be used for study & research purposes only.