Disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar received his third and final prison sentence Monday in a Michigan courtroom for molesting patients under the guise of treatment. As Eaton County Judge Janice Cunningham explained, the 40 to 125 years in prison she handed down to him ensures he serves all of it, whereas a life in prison sentence opens the door for a chance at parole. Monday’s sentence runs consecutively to the 60 years he’s serving for possessing child porn, and the 40-175 years issued him by an Ingham County judge two weeks ago.
Larry Nassar will die in prison.
Based on the chatter on the Uncomfortable Grace Facebook page and on social media pages in general, it’s clear this case has captured the attention of the country. The far-reaching ramifications continue to dominate news headlines. Consider Nassar’s disgusting abuse of power that spanned two decades. There’s also the “shut up and put up” policies by Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics officials, all of whom shamed the girls who reported Nassar’s so-called treatments. If that weren’t bad enough, the Lansing, Michigan-area Twistars Gymnastics owner and Olympic Coach John Geddert, whom Nassar worked for as well, forced non-optional sessions on gymnasts. Now the Michigan Attorney General is coming down hard on MSU, demanding texts and emails from at least 20 mover-and-shakers from the university president on down, attempting to nail down a timeline as to who knew what and when. The story that could end with Nassar’s final sentence continues to unfold.
Perhaps that’s the silver lining in this dark cloud. A case this unforgettable cannot be forgotten. My job as a radio news anchor enabled me to cover this case and live stream the victim impact statements from my home office. That’s a good thing since professionalism can erode if a reporter cries in the courtroom. As hundreds of young girls detailed their abuse, I sat with my work notes on my right and my Bible on my left, praying for God to move in the brokenness created by one man and a community of enablers.
God’s grace and his redemptive story doesn’t end when a criminal receives his prison sentence, or when victims make impact statements, or when the public and prosecutors and police officers move on to other pressing matters. In the middle crippling devastation, God’s handiwork is present, and redemption is only visible through the lens of brokenness.
Here’s what we can learn from this case:
God wants to heal, and we can help. Hopefully the hundreds of women and girls who read victim impact statements at Nassar’s sentencing hearings gives them some sense of closure. However, as many testified, they still face sleepless nights, high anxiety, the inability to trust, and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. The road to healing for many of Nassar’s victims may be long, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. As Sharon Hodde Miller points out in her book Free of Me, “[For Jesus] Healing was not an interruption or a speed bump on the way to matters more pressing. Instead, it consumed a large portion of his time. Jesus delighted to heal people, listen to their pain, and to weep alongside of them.” If that is Jesus’ standard operating procedure, it should be ours as well.
Sin emits collateral damage. I’ve written about the implications of Nassar’s actions here. However, Nassar’s victims extend beyond the patients he abused. He had a wife and three daughters until a court granted his wife a divorce last summer. Though victim impact statements reference abuse taking place at Nassar’s home, there’s no evidence his wife knew. When sin is exposed, it never just takes out one person.
Earthly justice is incomplete. Nassar will serve consecutive sentences of 60, 40, and another 40 years in jail. He will die there, but something about his sentences seems so inadequate. Distraught father Randall Margraves echoed this sentiment as he asked the judge for “five minutes with this demon” after his three victimized daughters spoke in court at Nassar’s final sentencing hearing. When the judge denied Margraves’ request, he ran towards Nassar and nearly reached him before being tackled by three police officers. Many cheered this father’s actions, and who can blame him? I don’t. My compassion is reserved for him and his precious daughters. At the same time, is our collective cheering for Margraves’ actions helpful? Everything about this case is engulfed in misery. Pummeling Nassar may result in momentary relief, but it never offers healing. That’s why the Lord declares that vengeance is His, not ours. Nothing good, nothing redemptive, nothing gracious comes when we take matters into our own hands. Freedom from the bondage caused by others can only be found through Heavenly means.
God wants to redeem everyone, including Larry Nassar. Let me be clear: Nassar belongs in a prison cell for sexually abusing these women (some of whom were children when the abuse took place). He violated their trust and basic medical ethics time and again. The justice system is currently nipping at the heels of others who covered up his crimes and turned a blind eye.
If Nassar’s story ends with him dying in a prison cell, we miss the bigger picture. God had a plan for Larry Nassar’s life, and he blew it. That’s the lesson for us all: the trajectory of our own lives is altered by intentional decisions. Nassar chose not to be a wise steward of his power and position, and countless lives paid the price.
There’s another who paid the price for each one of us. While it’s tempting to claim, “I’ve never done anything that bad,” we must remember none of us ever came into this world doing anything good. It’s only through God’s redemptive call on our hearts, and our ability to answer that call, that any of us can stand this side of bondage and proclaim our freedom. Romans 5:8 sums it up: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
As we continue to comb through the ripple effects of this case, may God continue to teach us about his immense love, unmerited forgiveness, and Heavenly justice. Christ died in our place and rose from the grave for us all, no matter how visible or widespread our sins. May our lives always reflect that promise.