What Bravery Looks Like

January 25, 2018 § Leave a comment

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Rachael Denhollander: “You made all of these voices matter. You are the bravest person I have ever had in my courtroom.”


Rachael was the first of more than 150 victims of Larry Nassar to come forward. Nassar made a career of sexually assaulting young women and girls he was paid to “treat” as the USA Gymnastics national team osteopathic physician. The full victim impact statement she made at Nassar’s sentencing Wednesday is tough to read, but it’s worth reading. But I wanted to call particular attention to the part of it included in the post, after a word about bravery.

So much of what gets labeled “brave” in our culture today isn’t so brave either because it doesn’t reflect goodness or it doesn’t reflect truth. A musician or celebrity coming out as a lesbian is called brave, but her declaration isn’t good. A politician or athlete coming out as a woman is called brave, but his declaration isn’t true. Gutsy foolishness maybe, but bravery doesn’t quite fit.

All of Nassar’s victims are brave, but what sets Rachael’s testimony apart is that not only did she describe Larry Nassar’s evil, but she explained it, then offered Nassar hope in light of it. She provided an objective basis for good and evil and her desire that Nassar come to terms with his own sin. She calls for justice to the full extent of earthly law, but she also calls Nassar to repentance and forgiveness in “the gospel of Christ. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.” Where hatred would be expected, Rachael boldly appealed to the Bible and answered with Christ’s love and forgiveness in a testimony of the gospel.

Good. True. Brave.

“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.

If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.

The Bible you speak carries 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. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday 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.

Throughout this process, I have clung to a quote by C.S. Lewis, where he says, my argument against God was that the universe seems so cruel and unjust. But how did I get this idea of just, unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he first has some idea of straight. What was I comparing the universe to 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. And this is why I pity you. Because when a person loses the ability to define good and evil, when they cannot define evil, they can no longer define and enjoy what is truly good.

When a person can harm another human being, especially a child, without true guilt, they have lost the ability to truly love. Larry, you have shut yourself off from every truly beautiful and good thing in this world that could have and should have brought you joy and fulfillment, and I pity you for it. You could have had everything you pretended to be. Every woman who stood up here truly loved you as an innocent child, real genuine love for you, and it did not satisfy.

I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from ever experiencing, and I pity you for it.”

Rachael closes her statement with an ernest appeal to the judge for the maximum penalty allowed because “what was done to them matters.” Indeed, they matter because both our value and God’s justice are “a straight line.”


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