The Gospel and Michigan State University

Several people have asked me about the painful sexual abuse scandal happening right now at Michigan State University.  Larry Nassar was a doctor employed to treat gymnasts for MSU and USA gymnastics.  Instead of treating them medically, Nassar sexually abused hundreds of girls over decades.

This is a painful time for all who are associated with Michigan State, as am I (my parents both graduated from MSU, and my niece will graduate from there this spring).  But this is a bigger issue.  It affects all of us, not just those associated with Michigan State.  I’ll share a few quick thoughts on what this episode reveals about us all:

1. Total Depravity is a reality. Scandals like this are shocking in the face of a people who believe in “progressive” technology, morals, enlightenment, and intelligence.  We are shocked into seeking an answer to the question of “How could this happen?”  The answer, in no small part, is a bedrock doctrine of the Reformed church:  Total Depravity.  The Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2).

People who search for a human institution in which they can fully trust will be sorely disappointed time and again.  ESPN, which has covered the Michigan State scandal harshly, has it’s own past littered with sexual harassment allegations.  A counselor at Michigan State resigned in protest over a supposedly lax institutional environment of sexual abuse investigation only to be accused, herself, of sexually abusing a student many years before.  And on and on it goes.  Jesus taught to spend no time looking down our noses at the sins of others with a sense of higher self-righteousness.  “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye,” Jesus said (Matthew 7: 5).  We are all sinful people.  We are guilty and in need of saving grace.

2. There is great power in words. Larry Nassar affected hundreds of lives with his vile physical actions, but large institutions like Michigan State, USA gymnastics, and the NCAA have been forever changed by the words of Nassar’s many victims.  Rachel Denhollander (pictured above) asked, “What’s a little girl worth?” and a nation gasped and wept.

3. The gospel is beautiful and hopeful no matter the context. Go to this link and try to read Denhollander’s address to Nassar without being melted by the grace and healing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ:  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/incredible-testimony-former-gymnast-confronts-sexual-abuser-court/

Here is a taste:  “In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.”

God reveals to us the glorious gift of hope in the face of utter depravity in Ephesians 2:4-7:  “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

The gospel is this:  By ourselves, we are more broken and twisted than we ever dared believe, but in Jesus Christ we discover that we are more cherished and loved than we ever dared hope.

Today I mourn for the many victims of sexual abuse at MSU and all around the world and am made ever more grateful for Jesus giving of himself so that hopeless sinners like me can live.

Who’s with me?

Peace to you,
Pastor Matt