Restoration After Betrayal; How God Restores Relationships After Betrayal

Mar 05, 2024

When you go through a betrayal in a relationship, followed by separation or estrangement, does God’s healing and restoration in your life and their life mean that you both resume a relationship again? In this blog, I’m going to talk about what restoration means in God’s economy, and in the process I’ll address the biblical models of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration and the differences between them.

Forgiveness

We are taught a lot about forgiveness in the Bible and Christendom. When Jesus taught the Lord’s prayer, he included forgiving others as part of our daily practice, emphasizing that we should forgive others just as God has forgiven us (Matthew 6:9-13). He also told his disciples to forgive seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:22). What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to release someone who has harmed you from any feelings of resentment or vengeance regardless of whether they ask for forgiveness or not, or whether they deserve it. This release is between you and God at a heart level, and also between you and the person who has hurt you, though the person you are forgiving does not have to be involved. Sometimes it is not possible for the other person to be involved for many reasons. They might be entirely absent from your life, deceased, or perhaps they hold the belief that they committed no wrongdoing warranting your forgiveness. So, forgiveness is more for your own sake than for theirs because it frees you from any emotional hold the other person or the hurt has had on your life.

Now, all that being said, when it comes to forgiving a person’s chronic sin, you are not required to forget about the betrayal or hurt and allow the party to start on a clean slate again, nor does it mean that God expects you to return to the relationship as if nothing happened. You will certainly have to remember history so that you can discern how to relate to that person in the future. In some cases, you may have to first determine whether you should be relating to them at all, especially if that person has not done any work to deal with the sins in their heart that made them betray you in the first place.

Forgiveness is a personal decision on your end, between you and God to release the other party from any feelings of offense, hurt, or resentment. It doesn’t have to involve the other party. Thus, you can forgive someone who doesn’t believe they have done anything to wrong you. The purpose of forgiveness is to keep your heart free from bitterness.

Reconciliation

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. You can forgive someone without being reconciled, because, unlike forgiveness, reconciliation takes two people to make it work. Reconciliation requires one or both persons who caused betrayals in the relationship to repent for their wrongdoing and ask forgiveness, and both parties to grant it. Forgiveness results in there being peace in the heart of the person who forgives, but not necessarily peace in the relationship. However, reconciliation involves making amends and creating peace in a broken relationship. After a reconciliation, you can run into the other party on the street and not feel tense or awkward, and there can be a friendly conversation.  

Restoration

Does reconciliation mean that you are required to resume the relationship as it once was? Not necessarily. The process of returning to the relationship that existed before betrayal is restoration. Restoration means to recover what was once lost. It is not always possible to recover after betrayal, and God does not require restoration, even after there has been forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation don’t automatically lead to a restored relationship. God’s work of restoration in our lives does not always involve restoration of the relationship.

What does restoration look like in God’s economy? 

Restoration and Unity

Restoration of relationships is a complex issue because on one dimension, a big thing that Jesus prayed for on the earth, especially before he was crucified was for unity among God’s people. Jesus prayed that His people would be one. He prayed, “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in us…” (John 17:21) In the book of Acts, it says that His people were in one accord on the Day of Pentecost before God’s Holy Spirit was poured out (Acts 2:1-4). Also, Paul the apostle said, “Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:2). Unity is God’s ultimate desire for His people. If God wanted to emulate on earth the kind of culture that is in heaven, it would be that His people are united as one.

However, God also foresaw and understands the brokenness of humanity. The Scripture tells us of the epidemic of hardened hearts that we face. 2 Timothy 1:3 says “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good…” and the list goes on. Jesus understood the hardness of human hearts, and explained that God made concessions for it–for example, in Matthew 19:8 he says “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” Jesus understood that when one party in the marriage has a hard heart towards their spouse, when there is no love, this doesn’t represent the marriage that God had designed. Instead, it becomes oppressive. So, even here, Jesus acknowledges that it is not always possible to achieve God’s original design for a relationship once it has been broken. Similarly, Jesus understood that as people set out to follow Him, it would cause tensions within families: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). So, even though Jesus prayed for unity and is called the Prince of Peace, He understood that because of the brokenness in us, it would not always be possible for families, couples, and friends to be restored to spotless relationships. He acknowledged that those closest to you can become the greatest threats to your relationship with Christ.

Jacob and Laban: God’s Restoration through Division

The story of Jacob (Genesis 25:23 through chapter 33) illustrates how God works amid broken relationships. Jacob’s life was filled with complicated relationships, particularly with his brother Esau, and his father-in-law Laban. Both of these relationships involved betrayals and the breakdown of trust. If you aren’t familiar with these stories, I encourage you to take a moment and read them. In the meantime, I will give a brief paraphrase.

When Jacob first encountered his uncle, Laban, there was a beautiful homecoming. For Jacob, who had just run away from his family because his older brother Esau was trying to kill him, this reunion with a long-lost relative would have been an answer to prayer and God’s provision for Jacob’s need for family and community. The Bible says, “When Laban heard the news of his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him. He put his arms around him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Then Jacob told Laban all these things. Laban said to him, ‘For surely you are my bone and my flesh.’ And Jacob stayed with him a month” (Genesis 29:13-24). However, this hospitality turned out to be love-bombing, coaxing Jacob into staying longer and longer and eventually into working for his uncle.

Sadly, after some time, Jacob realized that this was no family relationship; he had become enslaved by his father-in-law. His uncle cheated him into working for him for fourteen years for his two daughters in marriage, even though the original arrangement was that Jacob was to work only seven years for the younger daughter. Laban consistently and continuously exploited, used, and cheated Jacob for twenty years until God one day called Jacob to gather his family and leave.

At this point, Laban had to be restrained by God because his heart did not change. Furthermore, God ordained a strong boundary between Laban and Jacob where neither would venture back into each other’s lives again. The Bible says, “Laban said to Jacob, “See these stones that have been set up between you and me. These stones that have been set up will stand for our agreement. I will not pass by these stones to hurt you. And you will not pass by these stones to hurt me” (Genesis 31:51-52). After the pile of stones was set, the two never met again. There was no reunion between them, no visitations with Jacob’s kids. The story of Jacob and Laban ended with a permanent separation. A similar boundary was also set up between the Israelites and King Pharaoh. The Israelites were to leave Pharoah and never return to Egypt again. Sometimes God’s restoration for you out of a toxic relationship where there has been continuous betrayal means you have to leave, keep going forward and never return to Egypt again.

Jacob’s separation from Laban and the separation of the Israelites from Egypt reflected that there was never a true relationship between them, to begin with. Unfortunately, you may also find yourself in this situation, where the end of a relationship reveals that there was never a true relationship. Instead, what appeared to be a relationship was an arrangement designed to benefit one party.

Even after extending forgiveness after this kind of relationship, you may find God setting a boundary between you and the other person, preventing you from going back to the relationship. Believe it or not, division can come from God. This division can protect us from relationships where there has been a continuous betrayal. God doesn’t force unity when you have one person who loves and seeks to follow Him and another who doesn’t, who’s heart is hard. Sometimes leaving a toxic relationship and never looking back is God’s ordained remedy for healing. You need to keep going forward. Your past is dead to you. When there are deep and persistent character and toxicity issues with the other party, and it is more damaging and costly for you to stay, restoration means leaving the toxicity behind and trusting that restoration and healing will come in the context of existing and new relationships in your life.

Restoration for you might mean going forward and opening yourself to new relationships and opportunities and letting the old things die. Hold on to the verse, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:19).” When God knows the other person will not change, He calls you to look forward to the new things He has planned for you.

Jacob and Esau: Restoration as an Invitation

Let’s look at another possibility of what restoration can look like in God’s economy.

I mentioned earlier that Jacob met Laban after fleeing from his older brother, Esau. That was because, as a young man, Jacob deceived his father and betrayed Esau by stealing his birthright (Genesis 27). When Esau learned of the betrayal, he was so furious he plotted to kill Jacob. Consequently, Jacob had to flee from his own family to preserve his life. So, there was betrayal both ways: Jacob stole Esau’s inheritance and Esau was trying to murder his brother in his anger. In some ways, those twenty years Jacob spent serving and being exploited by Laban, could have been God allowing Jacob to have a taste of his own medicine.

During those twenty years, however, it seems that Jacob’s character matured a lot. At the end of that period, Jacob encountered an angel and wrestled with God. It was in this encounter that God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which was powerfully symbolic because Jacob went from being called “schemer” to “one who wrestles with God.” Along with this name change, God gave Jacob, now Israel, a new assignment in life, calling him to father nations. Following this transformative experience, Jacob crossed paths with his brother Esau.

Despite this profound transformation, Jacob continued to harbor significant fear concerning his brother. He prayed, “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:11-12). However, Jacob didn’t trust God to protect him. Instead, he returned to his scheming ways and tried to pacify his brother by sending him herds of his flocks as gifts. As he and his entourage approached Esau, Jacob strategically positioned his wives, children, and maids at the forefront while he lingered at the back.

In an unexpected twist, the subsequent events unfolded as a beautiful revelation. During their time apart, Esau also became a changed man. He was no longer angry and bitter against his brother but kind, caring, gracious, and humble. Through the long estrangement, both Jacob and Esau became changed people. The Bible says, “Then he [Jacob] crossed over before them and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4). This is such a touching reunion. You can see a deep reconciliation taking place between the lines. Both brothers had love and kindness towards each other. From this encounter, one would assume that Jacob and Esau’s relationship would be restored, that they would make up for lost time and become the brothers they never were.

However, contrary to expectations, the story took an unexpected turn. Esau offered to accompany Jacob on his journey, and Jacob declined the offer, saying that he needed to go at a slower pace because he had young animals and children with him. This apparent refusal raises questions about Jacob's motivations. Why did Jacob seem to make excuses? There was a deeper dynamic going on. Esau was opening an invitation to reconnect and bond on the journey as brothers, to go beyond reconciliation towards restoration and building a new relationship. But Jacob declined the invitation. And there is no evidence in Scripture that Jacob and Esau ever restored their relationship. In fact, in the generations following, there was still a lot of animosity between the two family lines.

In this story, we see that both parties were transformed, extended forgiveness, and reconciled, and yet, the relationship was not restored. Was it God’s will for the relationship not to be restored? We don’t know. However, Scripture does not condemn or penalize Jacob for declining his brother’s invitation. God doesn’t force this kind of restoration.

I used to question why Jacob did not want to become close with Esau again. Perhaps the terror he felt when he was fleeing left too much trauma for him to feel safe around Esau. Maybe he was still reeling from the situation with Laban. Who knows? His brother had changed, but it seems that it was too much effort for Jacob to feel comfortable pursuing a close relationship after their difficult history. We will never really know what was going on in Jacob’s heart at that time until we can have a conversation with him in eternity.

Whatever Jacob’s reason, his story tells us that God doesn’t force the restoration of a relationship after there has been a betrayal and estrangement, even if both parties have healed and undergone a transformation. It is up to both parties to decide. If one person desires it, but the other doesn’t, then it is a no-go. Restoration needs to happen with both people desiring it. Just because you are healed and the other person is healed doesn’t mean that resuming the same relationship as before is a given. One party may have moved on and is not longer in the place where they are interested in renewing the relationship. They may have forgiven you. They may not hold anything against you. You may have reconciled and be at peace with each other. You may be able to run into each other and engage in a pleasant conversation without being triggered. All those dynamics could be present in a healed relationship, but it doesn’t mean that the other party will necessarily want to resume the pre-betrayal relationship again. There is nothing wrong with that. Restoration can also look like not resuming a previous relationship.

Trust takes time and a lot of effort to rebuild. When trust is broken after betrayal, what foundation is the relationship supposed to be built on? Without the foundation of trust, both parties have to be willing to invest the hard work to reshape the relationship. That’s not always feasible depending on the duration of abuse and intensity of damage that was caused.

In this context, it is my belief that God respects the autonomy of individuals. If one party desires to revive an intimate connection while the other remains unwilling, attempting to force reconciliation is not in God's design. It is not a sin if you don’t want to reattempt a relationship even after the other person has changed. Just because you don’t feel like restarting a relationship doesn’t mean you have not forgiven or that you carry bitterness in your heart. Further, there is no obligation to prove your forgiveness by reentering a relationship. The sole fact that you don’t wish to reenter a relationship after betrayal, forgiveness, and even healing and reconciliation is not a sign that you are resisting God, or that you are rebelling. There is no requirement for you to go back to something that used to be toxic or abusive to you—even though circumstances have changed, or the person has changed. Even if you have healed and they have healed, you both may need different people around you who are aligned with who you are becoming and where God is calling you to go. The new thing God is doing may not involve resuming a relationship with that other person.

When the Relationship Can Be Rebuilt 

A third scenerio of restoration unfolds when, following a period of separation, two individuals join forces to cultivate a relationship that not only surpasses its previous state but flourishes with newfound strength. This emerging relationship is constructed upon the bedrock of authenticity and truthfulness, elements that may have been lacking in the past. Despite a history marred by toxicity, abuse, or betrayal, both parties retain a profound appreciation for the relationship. Having undergone healing and growth, they are unwaveringly committed to creating space for each other's journey and growth.

In this scenario, both individuals have upgraded their vision of one another, shedding the shackles of old, unhealthy dynamics that once plagued their relationship. The fresh connection is crafted in light of their individual transformations and aligned with the unfolding work of God. This form of restoration is a testament to the beauty that can arise from adversity. It shows that what the enemy meant for evil in trying to destroy a relationship, God can use it for good.

Conclusion

To sum things up, when God restores relationships after a betrayal, there are at least three possible scenarios that he sets up.

  1. God calls you to move on from the old relationship and never look back. His restoration for you comes through new relationships and other existing relationships.

  2. God heals and changes both you and the other party, but it doesn’t result in both parties resuming their previous relationship.

  3. God heals and changes both you and the other party, creating a resumed and redefined relationship that is even stronger than it ever was before.

I hope this teaching has clarified forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration and the many different ways restoration can take shape within God’s plan.

Related Resources

Watch the video version of this blog here

  • When There Is No Justice. How God Brings Restoration Out of the Injustice of Narcissistic Abuse [Watch]
  • Forgiving or Enabling a Narcissist?  What would Jesus Do? [Watch]
  • Should you Forgive an Abuser 70 x 7 Times?  How an Abuser Exploits & Weaponizes What the Bible Teaches about Forgiveness [Watch]
  • Tempted to Get Revenge on the Narcissist? How God Deals with Someone Who Caused You So Much Pain [Watch] 

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