Getting Caught Is God’s Mercy: Reflections on Larry Nassar and Repentance
The #MeToo movement keeps rolling along. As with any new cause, there is a tendency to go overboard and push things too far, but overall what has happened has been a very good thing. As a father who raised a daughter, I worried that she would be taken advantage of and then shamed or scared into silence. What a horrible experience that is for a child, for a young girl or boy to go through! With every outing of such men and their behavior, I say, Good! You finally got caught!
The latest offender in the #MeToo public bullseye is Larry Nassar, the doctor at Michigan State University who has been on trial for sexually abusing more than 100 girls. So many of the men in the news who are accused of sexual violence and misconduct did these things over and over. For years. With victim after victim silenced by power, reputation, fear, and shame.
The details of what they did vary, but what finally brought about the means to stop them was the same. They got caught. That is, someone talked. One woman, and then another, and another, mustered up the courage to give voice to expose such evil. Tragically, horribly, inexcusably, it took years for those voices to be heard. But finally someone listened, and now we are all listening.
We have an expression in our men’s biblical support groups here at Harvest USA:
It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught.
Here’s what I mean. Many of the men who come to our biblical support groups are married, and they’ve been trapped in pornography. They aren’t sexual predators like Nassar, but in some ways, they are like him. They’ve spent years doing these behaviors, hiding their behavior, lying to their wives and family and looking respectable on the outside, while giving their hearts over to desires that rule them and own them.
A few self-confess and seek help. But the majority have gone so far with their sin, and have staked their livelihoods on their reputation and identity, that outing themselves is unlikely. Getting caught becomes the only way out.
But getting caught does not feel like God’s mercy at all. It feels like hell itself! Their entire world has crashed down upon them. Some have lost jobs, others their marriage and family, all have had their polished public image ripped to shreds.
Sin owns you, and in turn, you own it. The paradox is that while you feed on sinful impulses and desires, it feeds on you.
And then we tell them when they show up at group, “It’s God’s mercy to you that you got caught.”
It takes some time before the men come around to understanding this.
First, they have to acknowledge a strange paradox of human behavior. Rachael Denhollander, the gymnast whose legal action outed Larry Nassar, gave a stirring Christian testimony at Nassar’s sentencing where she touched on that paradox. She spoke about how Nassar pursued his desires to get sexual satisfaction from his victims, while being, at the same time, ruled by those same desires. She said, “You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires, a man defined by his daily choices repeatedly to feed that selfishness and perversion. You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others…”
Sin is slavery, said Jesus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Sin owns you, and in turn, you own it. The paradox is that while you feed on sinful impulses and desires, it feeds on you.
And the first damage it does is to your own heart. Because sin—repeated sin—over time hardens your heart. Hardens it to the point where the heart begins to justify whatever it wants. Freezes it, with little warmth or compassion left for those you hurt because your needs must be met. Eventually, that heart, though made in the image of God and capable of great love and beauty and kindness, becomes the shadow of death to others and to itself.
In her testimony, Rachel then spoke about what repentance and forgiveness would mean for her abuser. “The Bible you carry speaks a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. 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…I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God…”
All of us will be exposed – either in this life or the one to come. Will you come into the light? The question is whether we will voluntarily come into the light, or get caught.
Getting caught is the best thing to happen to Larry Nassar. Sure, primarily because the evil he did has now been stopped, and justice is now being meted out on him for his crimes. But also for his sake. That is what Rachael is offering him. He now has a chance to face, while still alive in this world, a God whom he would inevitably face in the world to come. Repentance is being offered to him, a chance for him to allow God to restore his heart and his humanity.
Getting caught is the best thing to happen to the men who come into our groups. Only now can they clearly see themselves and their behavior, see the damage it has done to others, the damage to themselves, and fall upon the grace Christ gives only to those who know they are guilty.
If we are honest with ourselves, all of us need to be caught. We need the eyes of others to see us, and we need their voices to speak up when they see us act wrongly. The writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers to do these very things with one another: “But exhort one another…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
Where does this blog find you? Are you still in hiding? Jesus warned, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3). All of us will be exposed – either in this life or the one to come. Will you come into the light? The question is whether we will voluntarily come into the light, or get caught.
Either way, it’s God’s mercy to us.