Dr. Lawrence Nassar used his position of respect and authority as a physician to sexually abuse well over 100 young women and girls who were under his care. Nassar's status was overmatched by his perverted and repeated preying on those he deceived into trusting him. Even the word heinous cannot carry the weight of this evil, this sin was against God and his vulnerable image-bearers, some as young as six.
Rachael Denhollander, one of the first women to make public accusations against Nassar, said this at his sentencing. "Larry is the most dangerous type of abuser. One who is capable of manipulating his victims through coldly calculated grooming methodologies, presenting the most wholesome and caring external persona as a deliberate means to ensure a steady stream of young children to assault."
What does this horrible and pitiful man deserve? He was rightfully accused and rightly judged. He was guilty on many counts of sexual abuse and sentenced for many years. He will die in prison. Nevertheless, the manner in which Judge Rosemarie Aquilina troubles me.
Judge Aquilina said it was her "privilege" to sentence Nassar. She specified shared how the 40 to 175 years of his sentence translated into months. She added that she "was signing his death warrant." At this, some in the chamber applauded. I grimaced when I heard all of this, although I knew the sentence was right.
I was an observer and witness at a trial where a man was accused of stalking a young, female friend of mine. He defended himself and wearied all of us with his obtuseness and pathetic defenses. The judge ruled him guilty and reprimanded him. "You many never contact her again. You must not be within 100-yards of where she is..." His was the voice of authority and reason. But he was impartial. His words were not bitter, but direct and forceful. It is customary for judges to reprimand along with sentencing.
It was not Judge Aquilina's "privilege" to sign Nassar's "death warrant." Yes, it was her duty to so sentence him, but even the punishment for these atrocious crimes is nothing to celebrate. It was just, but it is sad. As Proverbs says, "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice" (Proverbs 24:17).
Since Nassar was morally responsible for injuring so many trusting women, he deserves proper punishment. Yet this a human tragedy. A brilliant man went terribly wrong. That in itself is horrible.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans that the state has the God-given "power of the sword" (Romans 13:1-7). When just laws are broken, guilty people must pay. Justice ought to be served. Dr. Lawrence Nassar belongs in prison. But the final and perfect justice is only served by the Judge of all the earth. This Divine Judge is also merciful and he summons us to show mercy and to leave vengeance to him.
Even when a moral monster gets what is coming to him, he deserves pity more than hatred. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44). As a Christian, I deem Nassar's punishment as just; but as a Christian I should also try to love him, not because of his character, but because the God of love bids me to do so. Godly love is not permissive, but clear-eyed. None are worthy of salvation and all are in need of it.
At his sentencing, Nassar said this accusers and victims: "Your words these past several days have had a significant effect on myself and have shaken me to my core. I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days."
There may be hope for him, and there has been justice done.
Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary, where he has served since 1993. He is the author of thirteen books, including Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, Philosophy in Seven Sentences, and, most recently, Walking Through Twilight: A Wife's Illness--A Philosopher's Lament.
Keep up with him at https://douglasgroothuis.com