Facing Darkness with Grace
You have probably heard something about the trial of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar who was convicted of sexual abuse of hundreds of girls under his charge. He was sentenced to between 40 and 175 years in prison for those crimes, in addition to many more for child pornography; he faces several other charges as well. Before his sentencing, Nassar heard from more than 150 of his victims as they made victim impact statements. Nassar, naturally, would object to this “media circus,” but the judge thought this was a minor inconvenience considering all the lives he had destroyed. Rachael Denhollander, who is now a lawyer and mother of three, was a victim of Nassar in 2000 as a 15 year old gymnast in Michigan. She was the first to speak out to accuse Nassar of his abuse, and she would be the last (#156 to be exact) to speak at the hearings. As it turned out, her speech became something of a sermon.
Nassar had carried a Bible with him to some earlier hearings, and Denhollander referred to that Bible, capturing God’s interest in grace, forgiveness and justice. She mentioned God’s sacrificial love where He “gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.” She spoke of the need of repentance as a sorrow that comes from being held accountable once one has been caught, but “acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen in this courtroom today.” She pointed to the gospel message of grace, encouraging her abuser to seek the relief from guilt and God’s judgment through the gospel of Christ “because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found.”
But she also spoke of reality of evil, quoting C. S. Lewis, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight.” What Nassar did was pure evil, not because of his perception or that of anyone else. “I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimization or mitigation. I can call it evil because I know what goodness is.” She then ended with an appeal to the judge for justice, “I plead with you to impose the maximum sentence under the plea agreement because everything is what these survivors are worth.”
Repentance and forgiveness. Gospel and grace. Judgment and justice. Good and evil. There is a technical word for the place where all of those things meet. It’s called gospel.