Do you really understand God’s forgiveness?
Last week I woke up in a nightmare. The dream seemed real, like an IMAX theater with heart-throbbing surround-sound and mountain-shaking sub-woofers. I dreamt of a friend’s betrayal from years ago, and I felt the naked fury, pain, and shame wash over me yet again.
Sooner or later—and most likely sooner—we will all experience a betrayal. I don’t mean a stab in the back: I mean a kiss-on-the-cheek treachery that leaves us bleeding and bewildered. All from a former friend who afterward asks, “What’s the big deal?,” and smilingly suggests, “Let’s grab a cup of coffee for old time’s sake.”
The friend whose betrayal most brutalized me was a comrade whose care once comforted me. The depth of my former friendship amplified the magnitude of the pain. As David once sang,
For it is not an enemy who taunts me—I could bear that; it is not an adversary who deals twistedly with me—even that I could bear. But it is you, my comrade, my companion, my close friend. We used to enjoy sweet intimacy. (Psalm 55:12-14)
If you’ve been betrayed, it may have been a wealthy parent who willed you one penny or a business partner who embezzled your retirement funds. The worst is an adulterous spouse.
How do we handle the pain, fury, and shame of a personal betrayal?
The Meditations of My Heart
After last week’s dream, I lay wide-awake, burning with anger. I wondered, “How could he have done this? How could I have been so stupid? If only his family knew of his heartlessness.” It was not visions of sugar-plums that danced in my head.
All my fury, ache, and shame merged into one short declaration, “I’d never do that.” I’d never treat a friend that way; I’d never be so underhanded; and I’d never be so heartless.
Almost instantly I felt God say, “Oh yes you would, and you’re doing it right now.”
My declaration, “I’d never do that,” was self-praising theft from God. If my claim hid an iota of truth (and that’s open to debate), any good in me was itself just a gift from God. My self-praise was plagiarism—exactly as if a friend wrote a great book, and I stole it, published it, and put my name down as its author. I was taking credit for God’s work.
We see friends divorce their childhood sweetheart, scream at their kids, or buy luxury cars they can’t afford, and we congratulate ourselves, smirking, “I’d never do that.” We all claim goodness for ourselves, and we are spiritual plagiarizers.
If we had their parents, their upbringing, or if we were born with their temperament, we would do the exact same thing. Probably something worse. Any good we have is a gift.
Let The Meditations of My Heart … Be Humble
God’s most intimate moment in Scripture is when he calls us his spouse. And almost every time he calls us his spouse, he also calls us his adulterous spouse (see Hosea 1-3 and Jeremiah 2). It’s hard to think of our actions as adulterous—sure we harbor a grudge for a week, or we think ill-thoughts of that weird woman at work—but adultery? Have I really been that bad?
I began to meditate on how bad I am. Yeah, I know I’ve been given a new heart, a white cloak, and a new name, but I can’t rest on my deserving them—that would be spiritual plagiarism. I listed bad behaviors and thoughts from the past month (the rest will take a lifetime). I just consciously remembered them, and then I admitted them.
All my self-esteem evaporated in a whimper. And then God’s love—in his enormous forgiveness—astonished me. I was being loved by the one I betrayed.
I began—slowly at first, but it picked up steam—I began to want to forgive that person who betrayed me. Compared to my betrayal of God, my friend’s disloyalty seemed a flea bite …
… next to the log in my eye.