When God Betrays Us

Douglas P. McManaman
May 17, 2021
Reproduced with Permission

I was recently asked a very interesting question having to do with prayer and the spiritual life: How is it possible for a person to pray to God when he/she feels let down by God, or even betrayed? It is a very important question, because the more I go on in life, the more I realize that far more people feel betrayed by God than I would have imagined.

Betrayal is an interesting notion. I can only think of one situation in my life as a young teacher that had anything to do with betrayal, and it had to do with a former administrator who felt I had betrayed him. It took close to 4 years to discover that I was hoodwinked, completely fooled by this person. To make a long and harrowing story short, I had discovered that he was a genuine narcissist, a pathological one, who like all narcissists, was the absolute center of the world. If you saw things the way he saw things, you were tops in his eyes; if you did not see things the same way, you were thoroughly denigrated. And if you dared to oppose him, you became a target. His underhanded schemes to destroy your reputation and all you’ve worked to achieve up to that point in your life revealed a complete and utter absence of conscience. I do believe I am a good judge of character, but that it took me so long to figure him out is only testimony to how good he was at hiding his true but dilapidated and cunning self behind a facade of goodness. He had a large number of people fooled.

My eyes were opened only after another colleague had figured him out, and of course this person soon became a target. It was at this point that I had come to see who he really was. So, I stood by this woman, spoke to her every day, supported her emotionally, etc., and he knew it. Because I did not look the other way or cooperate with his schemes, in his mind I had betrayed him.

Of course, it was not betrayal at all. I had no obligation to be loyal to him and his underhanded schemes. Our fundamental obligation is to be loyal to the truth, and if a person is not rooted in the truth, if he plots the destruction of the innocent for his grandiose ends, we have an obligation not to follow, not to support, but to turn away. But he just could not understand that, and the reason is that he had made himself the absolute center of the world and relegated everyone else to the periphery, and so his thinking was twisted, distorted, for the position that he’d placed himself within the grand scheme of things was distorted--he’s not at the center; rather, God is. It was only after this terrifying experience was over that I had begun to study pathological narcissism.

Now, let’s turn to the question: How does someone pray to God when they feel let down or betrayed by God? The problem here is that this thinking is distorted; it is entirely wrong. God is not capable of betraying. God is perfect; God is Truth Itself, Goodness Itself, and Beauty Itself, or as the First Letter of John indicates, God is Love (4, 8). God does not let anyone down; for He is absolute Mercy. It is we who betray, we who “let down”; for we are the ones who make ourselves the center of our lives. God has no obligation to follow our plans; rather, we have an obligation to follow His plans for us. When we turn our backs on his providential plan, on His will, then we slowly destroy ourselves, because whatever God calls us to, He does so because it will lead to our greatest happiness. The reason is that He wills our greatest happiness, and unlike us, He knows what will bring about our greatest happiness. We are too limited intellectually to know what is best for us, but God is not limited in any way. Nevertheless, we very often choose to do things our way, and when things finally go south, we feel that God has let us down, that God has betrayed us. But the truth is that we have betrayed Him.

Indeed, prayer would be difficult for such a person, just as it would be very difficult for the administrator mentioned above to carry on communication with me, since he believes I betrayed him.

The solution is to simply drop the illusion that God has betrayed us. Reject it, denounce the idea, realize that we are not the center of the world, that God’s plans do not revolve around us, but we are called to center our lives around him. And that is what the first commandment means: “You shall worship no other gods besides the Lord your God”. To worship is to make the center of one’s life. That commandment is first, and it is the first one that is broken--when we make ourselves the center around which our life revolves.

And so, I dare say that it is rather easy to overcome this feeling of betrayal. One just has to see it for what it is and denounce it. In light of Christ’s death on Good Friday, it becomes even more obvious how ridiculous it is: God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, joined a human nature to himself and dwelt among us, and his purpose in coming was to die on the cross, to offer himself as a sacrifice of reparation for the sins of the world. So, who betrayed who? He hung for six hours nailed to a cross. His death was a sacrificial offering, and his resurrection was the proof that his offering accomplished what it set out to accomplish, namely, that he destroyed death and restored life. Death no longer has the final word over our lives; for death was the result of sin, and so if Christ conquered death, he conquered sin, and thus we have the forgiveness of our sins in him. All that was given to us gratis, without our having earned it. That’s not betrayal, but absolute mercy.