For long hours Jesus hung on the Cross,
the agony of the nails adding to the excruciating pain from the
stripes on His back. As the sun beat down on on His exposed head,
thirst and hunger combined to take their toll on His body until He
finally weakened and died.
At one level, we know that what
happened on the Cross was the foreordained means by which God
intended to save the world. At another level, it came about because
one jaded disciple succumbed to greed and betrayed his master. We
may be inclined to dismiss the thirty pieces of silver Judas
received as if they were of no account, but the amount represented
several months wages for a skilled worker: six or seven thousand
pounds perhaps in today’s terms. Is there any limit to the depths
people are prepared to stoop to for love of money?
The distance between trusted friend
and turncoat betrayer is not always as great as one would like to
imagine. Many years ago, a godly man, who has long served as one of
my mentors suddenly declared, “You’re going to be betrayed one day!”
Several years later this did indeed occur – and the pain was
overwhelming. Shortly after it happened, I had an intense vision of
the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. I could feel the grief
involved as Judas did what he did to betray his master. It ushered
in the most painful episode in my life: one that took several years
to even begin to recover from.
These things are rarely as clear cut
as they were in Jesus’ case. Most of us have our own part in the
proceedings to repent of when relationships break down. I know that
I did in this instance. Forgiveness has an important role to play
then in ensuring that such experiences do not disempower us
entirely. Be warned, however: this is not always an easy or a
once-off event. It is easy to assume that we have forgiven someone
who has hurt us deeply, but we may only discover whether this really
is the case if the person continues to cause us problems . Or if
they fall into trouble and we find that there is nothing in us that
rejoices over their plight.
Once again, David is an excellent
model for us to follow. Saul had caused him the most acute distress
imaginable, yet the lament he composed for him is exquisitely
generous.14 Is our heart equally generous towards those who have
made life hard for us?
|This is not to underestimate the
effects such betrayal can have on us. If you have ever been
seriously “targetted” and abused, You will know how much it can
damage your self-esteem and confidence – not to mention playing
havoc with your trust in the stability of life.
It is by no means always obvious how
we should respond to such things. Sometimes it may be perfectly
legitimate to have recourse to normal legal or pastoral procedures,
but whenever we find ourselves longing for vindication, it is
usually wisest to leave such matters firmly in the Lord’s hands. He
alone knows the full reason why people behave as they do.
In terms of reaching out to those
from whom we are estranged, Scripture urges us to make haste and be
reconciled as quickly as possible.15 Sometimes, however, there may
be wisdom in staying away from someone while they are still in the
first flush of their anger, lest we come under the influence of that
Venting our feelings directly with
the person who has hurt us can actually make relationships worse,
especially if the other person takes our outburst badly, or is
unwilling to consider the matter from any other point of view.
There is also the danger of us
overreacting. I have found that when I lose my temper, I usually
lose a great deal more besides. I discover afresh the hard way that
the anger of man does not bring about the righteous life that God
desires (James 1:20). The Scriptures point us in an altogether
different direction. A harsh word stirs up anger, but a gentle
answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1).
If we manage to share our perspective
gently, and are both willing to make adjustments in order to
strengthen the relationship, then everything is still possible. The
Scriptures celebrate that God devises ways so that a banished
person may not remain estranged from Him. (2 Samuel 14:14).
Jesus calls us to love our enemies, for He not only comforts us in
our grief but delights, too, to forgive the perpetrators of it.
Heaven will be full of those who once sinned grievously. Look how
quick God was to respond when even seriously evil kings such as Ahab
and Manasseh sought his face – to say nothing of Saul the
Pharisee.16 Heaven will be full of such trophies of grace, as well
as those redeemed from less dramatic sinfulness.
Sadly, there is nothing automatic
about sinners turning to God. Jesus loved Judas and called him
“friend,”17 but He did not reach out to him after his act of
betrayal. I am reminded of Augustine’s penetrating insight: “One of
the thieves was damned, do not presume; one of the thieves was
saved, do not despair.”