Rachael Denhollander, C.S. Lewis and a Good God in Horrific Times

Rachael Denhollander

In 2016, Rachael Denhollander was the first of over 160 women to go public with accusations against Larry Nassar, the former sports medicine doctor at Michigan State. Yesterday, she was the last of 156 to tell her story in court before Nassar was sentenced.

Many Christians have rightly pointed to Denhollander’s presentation of the gospel to Nassar, but we miss the depth of what she did—and of the gospel itself—if we jump to that first and only stay there.

The Depth of Sin

At the beginning of her testimony, Denhollander spoke about the tendency of courts and culture to use language that shields us from the horrors of sexual abuse. She wanted to remove those.

“Very meticulously he groomed me for the purpose of exploiting me for his sexual desires,” she said.

“He penetrated me. He groped me. He fondled me. And then he whispered questions about how it felt. He engaged in degrading and humiliating sex acts without my consent and permission. And Larry enjoyed it.”

Everyone should read those and feel the horror of what Nassar did to her. You can only understand the greatness of what she did next by grasping the depth of what was done to her.

After explaining the pain and suffering she had endured, including even losing relationships with her church, she then moved to the gospel.

The Heights of Grace

It’s only after talking about sin and the costs it has that you can move on to her pointing Nassar, and everyone listening, to Christ.

After unflinchingly explaining and detailing all of the pain he had caused, all the suffering she had endured, all the loss she had survived, it was only then that she moved to forgiveness.

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 that someday you may 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.

We must not diminish the sins committed by Nassar in our efforts to praise Denhollander for such an articulate explanation of the gospel. Note how she rightly wants him to fully experience the weight of what he has done.

It is a cheap grace that never grasps sin and jumps straight to forgiveness. But Denhollander knows that only after we truly recognize the depth of own sin can we recognize the heights God’s grace will take us.

Jesus, in trying to illustrate why a woman would throw herself at his feet and wash them with her hair, told a well-to-do Pharisee: “Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.”

We have to understand that each of us has much to forgive. We should not rush Nassar or anyone else past their own sin or they will have a faulty view of their own goodness.

Nassar needs to know he has sinned and fallen so very short of God’s standard. And it was with this truth that Denhollander went even further.

A Loving God in an Evil World

In a truly magnificent moment, she used the worst tragedy of her life to point people to God’s goodness as a standard by which the world will be judged.

She references C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity as something that has helped her through this ordeal.

Throughout this process, I have clung to a quote by C.S. Lewis where he says, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust, but how had I got this idea of unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with 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 minimization or mitigation and I can call it evil because I know what goodness is.

She says the only way we can truly know evil exists is by comparing it to what is good.

Clearly, Denhollander is someone who has experienced horrific evils, but by her words and her life, she has pointed us beyond that to Someone who is truly good.

The judge in the case called her “the bravest person I’ve ever had in my courtroom.” After watching (and crying) through her testimony, I’m not sure how you can say otherwise.

Watch her full statement:

UPDATE: Read Denhollander’s interview with Christianity Today. She says too many skipped to her expression of forgiveness without addressing her calls for justice.

5 Comments

  1. Aaron, you probably know what I’m going to say here. But first I’d like to point out that what happened to these young women, was monstrous. And their bravery in facing their abuser and bringing his heinous crimes to justice, was and is, incredible. While I don’t want to discount Racheal’s strength here, this notion that an all-powerful, fundamentally “good” being just sat back and watched this abuse, is hard for me to stomach. Is his lack of intervention while these young women and girls were being molested, really a “goodness standard” to which humanity should aspire? If you or I saw it or knew about it, we would both spring into action. I’ll go with our standard for goodness any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Aaron. Well done. I am in such a busy cycle that I don’t pause to comment on things and am not even sharing as much on social media anymore. But I appreciate your work.

  3. Melissa Reply

    This is very nice and all, but I think you are overlooking how she was treated by her church and its members. In fact, many people who state that they are Christian.

    “Rachael Denhollander says she lost her church and her closest friends as a result of advocating for survivors who had been victimized by similar institutional failures.”

    • You are right, Melissa. I mentioned that in the post. Her fellow Christians and even her own church were among the people who disbelieved her and mistreated her. That is to the shame of Christians.

      Let’s accept that fact. Now what does that say about Jesus that Rachael still follows Him after being so mistreated by His followers?
      In her moment to speak to the man who sexually abused her, she chose to speak about the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

      Regardless of how poor His followers actually follow Him, there is something about Jesus that Rachael knows that keeps her with Him.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.