Everyone is talking about it. Betrayal. Whether it’s a pastor whose name was discovered in the Ashley Madison hack or President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran – that some say is an unforgivable betrayal of Israel – betrayal makes us run for cover in fear that we might be the next to be betrayed or even that we might be the next betrayer.

We were not meant for betrayal.

It opposes something that is core to our being.


The headlines on the glossy covers of the magazines by the checkout counters in grocery stores diminish betrayal with the promise of a story explaining why Miranda Lambert is divorcing Blake Shelton or  how the “ticking time bomb of betrayal” was part of the marriage of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner.

Betrayal is much deeper than most Hollywood stories.

Betrayal has a language of its own. In the Old Testament there is a phrase referenced – cutting a covenant. They would take a lamb and split it in two and say something to the effect, “Let this happen to us if we break our covenant.”

I have a piece of paper in my file cabinet that a lawyer, who I paid $350 per hour, advised me to keep forever. It is a Decree of Betrayal.

divorce degree

Betrayal is less like going to the court house and getting a piece of paper and more like cutting a heart in half, with blood and guts everywhere. Sometimes I wonder if keeping this document is really that important. Long ago I gave up trying to prove that I was the betrayed, because I knew that there was enough blame to go around and that the only thing worse than being betrayed is knowing that I, too, am a traitor.

Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, speaks the language of betrayal far more eloquently than a divorce decree or a breaking news story on Entertainment Tonight.

“Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing    . . .  And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. 

Behind me I heard a man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? This is where — hanging here from this gallows.'”

Our betrayals do not compare to the suffering of the Holocaust, but Wiesel wisely reminds us, “Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.” In his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1986 he affirmed the importance of remembering betrayal: “Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”

With profound humility and peculiar privilege, I hear stories of betrayal almost every day. All of the stories are worth telling, but today I write about a dear friend. She clearly speaks the language. You can tell when someone knows betrayal and isn’t just talking about it.

Three years into an intimate relationship, her world shattered. She learned that the man she loved and hoped to be with for the rest of her life had a secret life – sometimes double or even triple lives. His betrayal was inscrutable for years. He even had engraved an elaborate tattoo on his arm and chest to represent their journey together and his forever commitment.

My friend shared a poem she wrote about her own agonizing experience of betrayal:

iStock_000014857910MediumYou never said ’til death do us part
but you marked your body
with a story of light
while deep inside you held in the dark

if it’s true that with your heart
as your compass
you will always find your True North,
then break free the chains that have bound you
and find your way home

all the way to a Cross
that holds the shame and regret of an entire world

to a God who has set all captives free
(amazing grace how sweet the sound)
who sees each flaw (buried deep beneath the ground)
and says,
I choose you

behind every dark corner
around each turning bend

grace as a tourniquet
for the bleeding heart

love as the key for a buried lock
the treasure of your life laid before you

the story is still being written

heartinhandI love her poem because it does not shrink back from acknowledging the pain in this relationship while it holds on to hope in the One who has engraved his promise to us on the palms of his hands and on his feet. Like Wiesel, my friend communicates that God does not abandon us to betrayal – He experiences it with us.

The New Testament describes the tattoos of betrayal when the doubting disciple Thomas met Jesus after the Crucifixion. Jesus helped the doubter believe by marking his body with His message: “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe” (John 20).

Brennan Manning describes these marks as, “Brilliant wounds of a battle long ago, almost like a signature carved in the flesh.” The signature of Jesus announces, better than any words – to both the betrayed and the betrayer: “I would rather die than live one day without you.”

Elie Wiesel certainly knew betrayal in way that most of us do not, but we cannot ignore his wisdom imploring us to speak about those jagged edges in our stories. “No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.”

“Again Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'” John 8:12