There are few things more devastating in life than being betrayed by another human being. When someone commits an act of betrayal against us, it’s like they are cutting through our very dignity and humanity. This degrading act often leaves us in a state of shock, disappointment, and scrambling around with who we are and what we believe. Underneath all of this is a great imprint of shame. There is often a great deal of blame and guilt that we direct at ourselves. We feel unworthy.
Betrayal has an unbelievable hold on a person, sometimes long after the betrayal. It paralyzes people and can lead people to great psychological struggle. It can create problems like: Hypervigilance, suspicion, distorted views of relationships, lost hope for strength and justice, lost hope for intimacy. As well, betrayal can create such a strong feeling powerlessness that someone betrayed may have violent fantasies, or, even worse, act on them, as a way of channelling the pain of the broken relationship.
The great image we have of betrayal as Christians is the cross. Knowing the experience of betrayal, is a shared experience that we have with Jesus. We have moments with people like Judas who sell us, we may have moments like Jesus where we are able to yell, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” A Betrayal can feel like an existential crucifixion (depending on how deeply we trusted the person), which is, by being consciously aware of the pain that it has caused us, by knowing how it has effected the way we feel about ourselves, the world, and God, paving a way to resurrection. While the act of betrayal robs us of our innocence, it also leaves us less naïve about the way things are. As Richard Rohr puts it, “We learn the mystery of ourselves at the cost of our innocence.” Understanding this relational crucifixion, as Jesus did, helps us understand the very heart he has and allows us to endure the pain and move towards the world with compassion as we see in him. Knowing this dying also allows us to share in a newfound source of life, the resurrection.