“My mom’s never gonna forgive me!” She was right. Her mom never forgave her.
I was translating for the 15-year-old minor the words of the defense attorney. He wanted to convince her that if she behaved well in the foster home, she could go back home. But she already had a profound addiction to drugs: Meth, rock cocaine, ecstasy, and a cocktail of others. Her addiction had already led her to prostitution, theft, and now, aggravated assault. Her mother had caught her pilfering her purse. Mom lost it and gave her a harsh verbal scolding. They were in the kitchen. The teen lost it worse, grabbed the nearest frying pan and swung it down at her mom’s head. The mother fell unconscious to the floor, bleeding profusely from a gash to the head. The girl ran to her neighbor and told her that her mother had passed out all of a sudden. When the police came, the evidence pointed elsewhere. The girl had lard on her hands, the same lard found in the frying pan. And then there was that huge open lump on her mom’s head.
The District Attorney didn’t give the minor any breaks. The charge was filed as a felony attempted murder. But because she was a minor and it was a first-time offense, the charges were soon reduced on her attorney’s plea to simple battery. She’d be placed on probation for six months, and if she behaved at the foster home (instead of being locked up in Juvenile Hall), she could return sooner to her mother’s home. “But my mom’s never gonna forgive me,” she told her attorney. “Don’t be negative thinking like that,” was the best the attorney could answer. “After all, she’s got a mother’s heart.” “But you don’t know my mom,” the girl retorted. “She’s not gonna forgive me! And after all, it’s her fault ‘cause she didn’t wanna give me the money.” Later, when we spoke with the mother, she told us “I can’t do anything more with her, I’ve lost all control over her, I’ve done all I could.” Without any tears, not even a crack in her voice, she signed the document requesting a termination of parental rights hearing.
As I write this, I wonder if perhaps I am stretching things a bit thinking that it would be relevant to a considerably more sophisticated audience. Perhaps we already know the Gospel, that we are all sinners. Perhaps it might be offensive if I were to make any comparison between this teenage girl in a rebellious stage of life and steeped in the abyss of a devastating addiction to our more enlightened moral Christian condition. After all, we have the maturity of our years, the formation of our intellect, our ability to reason from cause to effect. Yes, we are sinners but due to our gifts and even our growth in grace, we must certainly be able to live above our sinful condition. But Scripture says otherwise. “All have sinned and come short of God’s glory.” The Amplified Bible is more precise in translating the verb form: “All have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Hmmm…that means there are no exception clauses for years in the church, theological studies, titles, wealth, social status or any other variable. “Continually fall short,” and it doesn’t matter how short.
This is not tennis, where even if the ball touches the outside edge of the line, it’s still in. All our shots are out. The words of Peter come across the time gap and reach all today: “You killed the author of life” (Acts 3:15). That’s actually worse than what the teenage girl did to her mom. She attempted to kill her mom with a greasy frying pan. We actually killed the author of life with the worst of instruments of torture, a cross! And just in case we come up with some extraordinarily savvy excuse, Scripture sends another thunderous lightning clap: “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar” (1 John 1:10). As if that were not enough, like the teen of our story who blamed her mom, we blame God: “You made us like this, because after all, we are your children.” But our heavenly Father does not listen to any of our outbursts. He loves us too much. He will win our hearts at any cost, even the life of His own Son. “For God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:17, 18).
To say there’s a marked contrast between an earthly parent and our heavenly Father is an understatement beyond words. Elsewhere Scripture asks the poignant question, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or have no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these mothers may forget; But as for me, I'll never forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15).
A few days later I was assigned again to the same courtroom where the teen girl had been arraigned on felony charges. But I was there for a different reason. The judge was to rule on the mother’s request to terminate her parental rights. The mother was adamant. My task is to interpret, and I cannot allow myself to become emotionally involved in the proceedings. It was only due to sheer training and experience that I was able to translate for the judge and the mother. “Do you now wish to voluntarily and perpetually relinquish and terminate your parental rights over you daughter?” Without hesitation, she responded, “Yes I do.” The judge continued, “Is there anything the court can do to change your mind?” “Absolutely not. I don’t want her back.” But the judge retorted, “Is it perhaps because you don’t want the continued responsibility of being her mother, and you just want to the government to take over your responsibility?” Finally, tears came to her eyes. She turned to me and pleadingly said, “Tell the judge that I’m afraid for my life; next time she will kill me. Tell the judge to keep her locked up for a long time, I need protection.” The judge saw no need for further inquiry and terminated her parental rights, concluding with the words “irrevocably and forever.”
The mother sighed with relief and quickly left the courtroom. The daughter was not present. Her attorney had said she did not want to be present at the hearing. Due to her egregious attack on her mother, she was now legally motherless at 15. But the perturbing questions is, for how long had this child been motherless? For how long had the relationship been broken? And what about the father? Was she also fatherless? All notices sent to the dad requiring his appearance at his daughter’s hearings had been returned. The District Attorney’s report on her dad pithily read, “Whereabouts Unknown.”
This girl had really been abandoned. Her dad had checked out of her life, and her mother had abandoned her emotionally many years before. Her only significant others were her pimp and drug-sniffing buddies.
There’s something scandalous about parents abandoning their kids. Neither mind nor heart can understand that divide. We are bonded to our offspring. They are a part of us. In body, emotion, spirit, they continue to be part of our lives forever. Thus the judge’s ruling to terminate parental rights is only an artificial legal verdict. Neither daughter nor mother nor father may successfully break the bond. Yet, even fathers and mothers may forget. Abandonment. That’s such a painful emotional word to describe a relationship.
And yet, in heaven’s paradoxical logic, sinners are brought close to God through abandonment. Jürgen Moltman highlights that dynamic. On the cross, the Son was abandoned by the Father, so that the Son would become the God of the abandoned, and thus reconcile them to Himself. “Because God ‘does not spare’ his Son, all the godless are spared. Though they are godless, they are not forsaken, precisely because God has abandoned his own Son and has delivered him up for them. Thus the delivering up of the Son to godforsakeness is the ground for the justification of the godless… It may therefore be said that the Father delivers up his Son on the cross in order to be the Father of those who are delivered up” (The Crucified God, 242).
These are big words and heady thoughts that must not overshadow the predicament of our abandoned girl and the parents who abandoned so much of themselves in abandoning their child.
We must see God’s grace cutting through this human muck. We must see the cross as the place where all the abandoned are brought close. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace” (Eph. 2:13,14).
At this point, the cross must be seen as a greater scandal than the scandal of parents abandoning their children, or the scandal of all human sin put together, including our own. Christ’s deeply painful human cry of “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” must be seen as an abandonment on our behalf. At the cross is where all the abandoned join hands in order to be joined by the God of our abandonment. And in touching us with His nailed pierced hands we are reconciled to God in all of Christ’s fullness.
“God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:19). And oh yes, “and he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.”
That’s great news for an abandoned someone nearby, perhaps someone as close as the dark recesses of our own soul.