Spirit & Truth # 302
“Grief and Grace”
By Greg Smith
Like you, I was shocked to hear the news of the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. We mourn with the families of the twenty children and six adults who were killed. We pray for their spiritual, physical, and emotional healing. We grieve over the victims. We also grieve over the unimaginable horror that must have lived in the mind of the shooter, Adam Lanza. We weep for every injury and death—every single one.
You may find it strange to grieve with Lanza’s family, after he caused such terror and devastation. But when I think of a young man like this, I shed tears over the trouble that must have been in his soul for a very long time before he pulled the trigger all those times.
Lanza is described as “weird,” or “a loner,” or “not connected with the other kids.” Schoolmates said that he couldn’t maintain eye contact with other people. Reports say that the shooter’s mother, Nancy Lanza, had said that he may have had Asperger’s Syndrome. Unrelated to Asperger’s, Lanza also suffered from a disorder that caused him to feel no physical pain. As a result, the media has been buzzing with discussion of mental and emotional disabilities and disfunctions. Some of this is good—as long as it generates a productive conversation about our society’s skewed views of mental health, and works toward greater understanding of mental disorders. But my concern is that the result may be quite the opposite.
Almost immediately after the Newtown shooting, when the media reported Lanza’s Asperger’s Syndrome, a friend of mine inquired, “How is your son taking the news?” What did she mean? My teenage son, diagnosed with a minor case of Asperger’s Syndrome, has observed more severe “Aspies” isolating themselves and become vulnerable to discrimination. People think that just because Aspies think differently than others there must be something wrong with them. Some people may even fear those whose brains work differently from their own. Yet nothing is “wrong” with those whose minds work on different operating system. It’s been said that if the whole world is made up of people whose brains work like PCs, then Aspies are Macs. Both work brilliantly—even if they are often incompatible.
As a Christian, I try to be aware when I find myself judging others unfairly. When I discover that I’m prejudiced against an entire group of people based on the misdeeds of one or a few, I need to put a stop to that attitude. I wouldn’t say, “The shooter had brown hair, so I’m afraid that other Brownies might flip a circuit.” Likewise, I hope that sensitive people will refuse to develop a prejudice against those with Asperger’s Syndrome or other similar conditions because of the actions of one man.
Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”[i] In God’s way of doing things, people who sow the wind of judgment will reap the whirlwind of their own discrimination. Let’s be careful how we judge people who may share some of the same characteristics as others whose sins bring grief to our hearts. Let’s take each person on his or her own merit.
Just as it’s unhealthy to judge others based on Lanza, it’s also unhealthy for us to judge Lanza at all. Facebook buzzes with people saying things like, “Lanza, I hope you burn in hell.” But Jesus told us to love our enemies, and to forgive those who mistreat us. Vengeance and justice are God’s province, while believers need only pray that healing will emerge from the ashes of our pain. Hate only hurts the person who hates, but wholeness comes from the Lord.
As we remember the victims, let’s also look with compassion on Adam Lanza. No one knows the internal torments he went through, except himself and God. As we pray for victims’ families, let’s pray for Adam’s family as well. They too are in need of grace. And may God have mercy on us all.