Crushing guilt and true forgiveness

The appalling case of Larry Nassar revealed how he used his position as the USA Gymnastics national team doctor and an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University to sexually abuse more than 250 women and girls over a period of 20 years. In January, Nassar pleaded guilty to sexually abusing 7 girls, including US Olympic gymnasts, and was sentenced to 175 years in prison. He had previously been sentenced to 60 years for child pornography offences and last week received an additional sentence of 40-125 years. He will spend the rest of his life in a high security prison. He will never be released.

Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander was 15 years old when Nassar began abusing her. She was the first of Nassar’s victims to make allegations against him. She was also the last of more than 150 survivors to share her impact statement in court. Rachael is now a lawyer and is married with 3 children. Her statement was powerful and deeply moving.

Rachael said, “Throughout this process, I have clung to a quotation by C.S. Lewis, where he says: ‘My argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But how did I get this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight. What was I comparing the universe to when I called it unjust?'”

“Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. And I know it was evil and wicked because the straight line exists. The straight line is not measured based on your perception or anyone else’s perception, and this means I can speak the truth about my abuse without minimisation or mitigation. And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good.”

“Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you. I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt, so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me – though I extend that to you as well.”

Living and dying in hope

C S Lewis, who wrote “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, had links with North Wales. His great-great-grandfather was born in the village of Caergwrle, near Wrexham. The neighbouring village is called Hope and a local pun, which is still current today, is “Live in Hope and die in Caergwrle.” This saying often comes to mind when I read the obituary columns in national newspapers. The obituaries can be very interesting as they give a brief account of the lives of well-known people. Many have served their country with distinction. Two things which are almost always absent, however, are the cause of death and any reference to their personal faith in God.

Wherever we live, and whatever we do, it is so important that, when the time comes for us to leave this world, we “die in hope!” The early Christians suffered severe persecution. Many of them died as martyrs in the Colosseum in Rome. Men and women, and even children, were thrown to wild beasts as a form of entertainment for wealthy Roman citizens. These Christians died a terrible death, but they died in hope.

The apostle Peter, who himself would later be executed by the Romans, wrote letters to encourage Christians who were experiencing persecution. In his first letter Peter wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.” Christian hope is unique because it is based on a unique event, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus died a terrible death but, on the third day, he rose from the dead. His resurrection transformed his disciples. He then sent them out to proclaim the good news of a living hope to people of all nations.

The story of our lives is still being written. For us all our lives are a mixture of achievements and failures. Few of us will have an obituary in a national newspaper! That doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that we die in hope! An old hymn says, “Be near me, Lord, when dying; O show thy cross to me; And, for my succour flying, come Lord to set me free; These eyes, new faith receiving, from thee shall never move; For he who dies believing dies safely through thy love.”