It was shocking news in 2017—a medical doctor and athletic trainer at Michigan State University was charged with sexually assaulting 150 female athletes, mostly gymnasts. After lengthy court appearances and trials, the doctor was found guilty and sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. The court proceedings were extended for days as the victims read impact statements to the court—their testimonies of what this man had done to them.
The words of these young female athletes were heart-wrenching. Anger and resentment flowed as freely as tears. As the women spoke about what happened to them, a growing awareness of the evil this doctor embodied pervaded the courtroom. What he did could not be described in any other way.
The last of the impact statements was read on January 24, 2018, by a young gymnast named Rachael Denhollander. She was the first of the athletes to come forward and accuse the team physician of sexual assault. It seemed fitting that she should have the final word in the courtroom. From a portion of her six-thousand word statement spoken directly to Larry Nassar, here is how Rachael determined to turn this terrible evil into something good:
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.
Wow. Such poise and grace. That, more than anything I have recently read, is an illustration and demonstration of what it means to overcome evil with good. This young woman discovered how to overcome two kinds of evil: the evil of revenge within herself and the evil that was done to her. Rachael Denhollander is an Overcomer!
What enables someone to overcome evil with good in this way? How do we keep ourselves from succumbing to anger, bitterness, grief, and the desire for revenge? How do we keep our hearts from storing the residue of evil done to us or to those we love?
Let’s look at the instruction Paul gave the Ephesian believers when he told them, using the metaphor of a Roman soldier, to “put on the breastplate of righteousness” (Eph. 6:14).
The breastplate of the common Roman soldier was a piece of armor made of hardened, reinforced leather. For an officer, the leather was covered with metal plating for extra protection. The breastplate covered the torso and protected the soldier’s vital organs—especially his heart. A warrior without his breastplate was vulnerable and dangerously exposed to the enemy.
In his letter, Paul used this literal breastplate that protected the physical heart as a metaphor. Righteousness, he inferred, acts as a “breastplate” to protect the figurative, spiritual heart of the Christian—the spiritual center of one’s life.
Righteousness is an old-fashioned word. Merriam-Webster defines it as acting in accord with divine or moral law, being free from guilt or sin, and being morally right or justifiable, as in a righteous decision.2
It is by appropriating the righteousness of Jesus Christ—His moral perfection and sinless life of obedience to the Father—and living righteously that we are able to overcome the evil that is within us and the evil that is around us.
David Jeremiah, Overcomer: 8 Ways to Live a Life of Unstoppable Strength, Unmovable Faith, and Unbelievable Power (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018).
I have just completed a 10 Week Bible Study Lesson Series on David Jeremiah’s book Overcomer. It is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription plan. The idea is to invite each participant to purchase their own book.