I have been reading about the horrifying case of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, former doctor for Michigan State athletics as well as for USA Gymnastics. It is astonishing, sad, and infuriating that he got away with it for decades, ruining so many lives and even leading to the loss of life as a couple of people committed suicide, partially as a result of his crimes. This is a man who already was sentenced to 60 years in prison for having tens of thousands of images of child pornography and videos of him molesting kids. Now, over one hundred victims have come forward to share their stories, making certain that even an elixir that doubled the average human life span would not allow him to ever leave prison.
He is a grotesquely evil man, and in many ways he is more dangerous than other traditional criminals because he is the kind who befriends people and gains their trust before abusing their beloved children. The bitterness and anger that his victims unloaded on him the past few days to go along with the anger of the wider world is richly deserved. Here is a piece of human garbage that one victim aptly called “a spawn of Satan.” A coach who sent over 100 girls to Nassar for treatment, ignorant of what was happening, said to him out of guilt and anger, “Go to hell,” a sentiment that is probably shared by even those people who generally have a problem with the doctrine of hell. If he were put in a room with every father of those girls to beat him in whatever way they chose, that would still be too light a sentence.
And yet, as Christians, we are to believe that if he were to put his faith in Christ, he would be saved and given eternal life. At first glance, such a statement makes even Christians uncomfortable and downright enrages atheists. Sam Harris finds such a belief to be utterly unjust and disgusting. Harris has never made an argument that has impressed me, but I understand his emotional reaction here; it seems deeply unfair. Sure, Jesus saves sinners, but come on: There’s a massive difference between a serial child sex abuser and someone who cheated on a test or has mild anger issues.
Such reactions are understandable. I have them too. They also show that even us Christians often do not understand the great power of the blood of Christ and the magnitude of God’s grace and love.
Last Sunday, I preached a sermon that was actually based on a blog post I wrote several years ago. In that post and in my sermon, I discussed an experiment where a cockroach was put in juice in front of people and taken out before the juice was offered as a drink. Obviously, nobody drank it. What is interesting about this experiment is that the juice was then put through a sterilization process in front of the people, yet even after that, they refused to drink it. This showed a lack of faith in the effectiveness of the purifier because surely bits of nasty cockroach stuff is still in there. Likewise, I noted that Christians also often show a lack of faith in the blood of Christ based on how they view serious sins like sexual immorality. It’s not that sexual immorality is not that big of a sin; on the contrary, it is uniquely destructive, and broadly speaking, it is simply unbiblical to state that all sins are equal. Still, not only is the blood of Jesus greater than grave sexual sin, it is greater than all the evil the world has mustered in history.
That is easy to say during Sunday School, even though if we really put thought into it, it should blow our minds. It is not so easy to put into practice and truly believe when faced with some horrific sin. Larry Nassar is one case that puts all of our preaching about God’s unfathomable grace and love to the test. We tend to react like Jonah, a prophet that we routinely criticize, who did not want to give the horrible Ninevites even a chance to repent and then was greatly displeased when God showed them mercy. When we do so, we may be right about the magnitude of sin, but we are wrong about the magnitude of grace.
The gospel breaks the boundaries of our understanding. While Scripture does hint that habitual sin may harden people to the point that repentance becomes impossible, no sin in and of itself is greater than the blood of Jesus, even those of Larry Nassar, of a serial killer, or a rapist. That’s really hard to believe and practice sometimes. I can see why saying that is offensive to some people, but that is because they misunderstand what Scripture teaches. Scripture does not minimize sin; what it does is exalt Christ in the face of sin. Jesus Christ is greater than we will ever know.
This is why one former volleyball player who was molested, Jennifer Rood-Bedford, could say this to Nassar at the end of a very tearful and painful speech:
As for forgiveness, Dr. Nassar, I want you to know that I pray for you, and I do forgive you. Is there still hurt? Absolutely. It’s a part of processing. But please know my forgiveness towards you is sincere. What good would it be to hold onto bitterness and anger, especially in light of such great forgiveness that’s been granted to me that I should be called a child of God? Never allow yourself to believe you’re beyond forgiveness, though certainly your actions are not without consequences, and you will face the consequences of those actions. You’re facing them now. But there is hope that transcends all understanding for those that seek it. If Paul the Apostle could find it, you can find it. It’s beautiful, and it’s worth living for.
That blew me away. It apparently blew away Nassar too because this reportedly caused him to actually show some emotion after being relatively stoic during every other speech. Only someone who understands a sliver of God’s grace could sincerely say this, and only someone who has been saved by the blood of Christ could have the confidence that it has the power to save even the worst of sinners.
I am reminded yet again that despite all my philosophical and theological training, my understanding of the gospel and the love of God is inadequate. It always will be. And thank God for that.