Forgiving the Unforgivable

I am sure you have seen the recent interview with Adam Lanza’s father in the New Yorker, or at least summaries of it from other news sources.

Adam Lanza is the young man responsible for the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He killed six workers and twenty little children. He had already killed his mother and later, he committed suicide.

Many sources are saying that Peter Lanza, Adam’s father, says that he wishes his son had never been born.

I can’t even imagine the amount of pain that would cause a parent to say such words about his own child.

Some people are very angry with the father for saying this: “If he turned out this way, it’s probably your fault! You’re the parent!” Others, however, seem gratified: “Even his own father admits how horrible he was.”

It’s a statement that reaches into the heart of existence and of sin. I do not know if human beings ever have the right to say it.

But I guess the first thing that jumped to my mind when I read Peter Lanza’s words were the words of Jesus Christ just before he was betrayed by his friend Judas:

The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had never been born. (cf. Mark 14:21 and Matthew 26:24, emphasis added)

Those words always make me shudder.

It’s hard to imagine Our Lord, the one who made us, saying that about anyone. But He does. He did. It has always bothered me.

Similar phrases come to mind: “Well, you’re God! You created him! You knew this was going to happen!” And on the other hand: “But he is your creation. How can you regret someone you yourself made?”

Jesus forgives those who are killing him on the cross (Luke 23:34) and when he confronts Judas in the garden, he calls him “friend” (Matthew 26:50). I am sure he did not use this term sarcastically–he always spoke the truth. Judas was his friend.

Despite everything, Jesus was reminding Judas of their true relationship and Judas’ true identity. The Gospel of Luke adds that Jesus also reminds Judas of his freedom–that he is choosing to perform an action: “Do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48)

Likewise, when Jesus says it would be better “for that man”–for Judas–if he had never been born, this must also be true. Judas’ crime is so terrible that–for Judas, from his perspective–it would have been better never to have lived at all. This choice has made his life such a privation–has emptied his life of so much (all?) of its goodness–that a lack of living would have been better. Death would be better.

Perhaps that is true of Adam Lanza as well.

Jesus does not say it would be better for Judas never to have been created, or that He (as God) regretted creating him.

But there is a terrible truth in His words. There are things worse than death. Apparently betrayal of this magnitude is one of them.

Or killing children–which seems to me a similar kind of betrayal. The betrayal of innocent human persons. For Christ was the most innocent of all.

But I do not think Peter Lanza has the last word concerning his son. I think, ultimately, the last word resides with the victims and their parents–many of whom have actually forgiven Adam Lanza.

The thing about forgiveness is that it is the most radical kind of love. Love says, “It is good that you exist.” Forgiveness says, “Despite what you have done, it is still good that you exist.

Forgiveness locates a person’s identity not even in his chosen sins, but rather in his status as a child of God.

Which is why, with Hans Urs von Balthasar, we are not only permitted to hope but indeed ought to hope “that all men be saved.”