As a native of State College, I found some sense of relief that justice was duly administered in the conviction of Jerry Sandusky this weekend for his systematic abuse of minors. However, this verdict should be seen not only as the end of an horrific nightmare but also the beginning of a more difficult process of reflection and healing for the entire community.
For residents and natives of State College, the Sandusky trial is a harsh reminder that justice is not merely the responsibility of the state, but of the community as a whole. The monstrosities committed by Jerry could not have gone on for decades without the willful neglect of hundreds in the community to pursue justice. Every blind eye turned, every awkward conversation avoided, every assumption that someone else was dealing with the problem, every passing on of responsibility to higher ups, is a crime against God and the victims. Many of those seemingly Draconian passages in Leviticus so commonly lampooned today existed to help the Israelites as a community be bearers of God’s justice. We Christians—and much of our culture as a whole—have forgotten and forsaken this responsibility. The historic confessions of the church include not only a plea for forgiveness for the sins we have committed by our actions, but also the sins we have committed by our failure to act, for neglecting to respond to those in need.
For Jerry, the trial proves that no one can compensate for atrocious acts with good deeds. We watched Sandusky’s profound delusion with shock—he seemed to honestly think that the hundreds of kids helped through Second Mile more than compensated for the dozens of lives destroyed by his predation. We might be stunned by his delusion, but all of us share in this trait to some degree. We are all delusional; we all paper mache over guilty consciences by convincing ourselves that we are good people. We’ve all done good things, people generally find us nice, we’re not as bad as so and so down the block. But the God who knows our hearts is not deceived by our bartering. As the media and courts exposed the darkness of Jerry’s heart, so will all of our sins be exposed when we die. The question is not what good deeds we have done, but have we repented of our sin, and do we cry out to God for the mercy and forgiveness that can only come through the cross of Christ? One thing is certain: God will not forgive those who don’t want to be forgiven. Unfortunately, so far Jerry seems to have forsaken the love of God, wanting not to be with his Maker, but instead to receive a reward for his philanthropy. I pray for myself and others that we don’t make this same mistake.
For the victims, the verdict offers a modicum of comfort, knowing that justice was served and that there will be no new victims. Of course this comfort is not complete, nor can there ever be closure on this earth. Hopefully friends, family, the State College community, and churches will aid in the healing process for all those victimized. Thankfully, we can turn to a loving God who is no stranger to savagery. God incarnate, Jesus, suffered severe physical and emotional pain—he was abandoned and neglected by loved ones and abused even in his innocence. God the Father mourned the abuse of his Son, and God continues to mourn along and with those who turn to him.
The Good News is that this mourning does not exist forever. Just as Christ was healed of his wounds through his resurrection, so complete healing will come at the end of days for those who receive this Good News, when heaven and earth unite, when Jesus’ victory over sin, evil, and death in his resurrection reaches its completion. All those who turn to Jesus may taste his healing power this instant and look forward to a time when wailing will be turned to dancing, where those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.