When friends turn – the enemy within

Friendly Fire: a phrase that puts together two words that should not go together.  The phrase came into common parlance during the 1991 Gulf War to liberate Kuwait.  Sadly a lot of soldiers were killed by their own side, the result of the challenges of bringing different armed forces together with different cultures and communication structures. To discover your loved one was killed by their own side is horrific but at least it is accidental

In Psalm 55, David pleads out to God because he is oppressed by an enemy. This enemy holds a grudge and means trouble for David. As is so often the case in the Psalms, we get the impression that the attack is not just physical but includes verbal slander in order to shame him,Yet the greater horror is still to come. Verses 12 -13 say:

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
13 But it is you, a man, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.

It is not just that David has been attacked by an enemy, he could prepare for that choosing either to confront or to bide his time and hide. The enemy is a friend. He has been caught by friendly fire and what is more, this is intentional not accidental, he has been stabbed in the back.

Few things hit harder than discovering that someone you counted as a friend has been undermining you. You opened up your home to them, you encouraged them, you gave time and energy, you invested in them, defended them, watched out for your needs. So it is deeply painful when they turn. When you discover that they’ve been saying one thing to you and something different to others, when you find out they were testing you to trap you, or when you find that they have been making false accusations to cause you trouble then that rips right into you.

It is not just that someone has hurt you, it’s the shock factor, it’s that you have not only gained an enemy but there is a double blow because you have lost a friend. It is that sense of betrayal which makes you reluctant to trust again.

It is helpful at this stage to highlight three things.

First, we are thinking about this in  Easter Week.  This reminds us that Jesus experienced desertion, denial and betrayal. Judas sat at the table and broke bread with Jesus then left to sell him for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus is able to empathise with us.

Secondly, we once were Christ’s enemies. We deserve the judgement the Psalm calls for. Yet God chose to be merciful to us. Will we be like the unforgiven servant who refuses to forgive a man who owes him a small amount, even though he, himself owes the king a much larger amount? Jesus gives us the verdict we don’t deserve and calls us to follow his example of loving those who we don’t love us as we believe they should.

Thirdly, we are told that the Psalmist can trust God’s deliverance. God acts to rescue him just as God would later vindicate Jesus by raising him from the dead.  There is the promise of vindication for us.

However, I think that one of the great challenges when we lose a friend is that sadly we often don’t get the opportunity we desire for reconciliation. We move on in life and maybe one person moves away. An older relative that lets us down dies. One day even a former friend in our own age bracket  will die, or I may find myself on my death bed with unfinished business. That can be so painful. As hurtful as their betrayal was, we still deep down desire reconciliation and a recovery of what was.  However, we have learnt time and time again as we’ve come to God’s Word at Easter that death does not have the last word. We are a long way from the end of the story now. There will be opportunity one day for the reconciliation we desire. There will be healing of relationships in heaven.

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