Jerry Sandusky and the reach of God’s grace

Since the name “Jerry Sandusky” came to notoriety last year due to allegations of serial sexual abuse against a number of young boys, we have been waiting for the trial and conviction that has now arrived. We have heard about victims telling similar, cringe-worthy stories of abuse, as well as the attempts of Sandusky’s defense to propose a conspiracy theory tied to dreams of large payouts at the expense of an upstanding citizen who only wanted to help children. 

It is not a stretch to assume that upon viewing clips of Sandusky entering and exiting the courtroom or images of his face in the news, there is an immediate response of antipathy and perhaps rage. All of this makes perfect sense, but I have found myself asking a difficult question: how should I think about someone like Sandusky when I desire justice, but also recall that he is a person who is created in God’s image? And then this: what does it mean to believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is truly good news about God’s grace and mercy toward sinners? 

For sure, one can counter with this: “Have you thought about the victims of this cascade of evil?” Indeed, I have thought about and prayed for these young men who have been wrecked, but that’s the easier part. The difficult part concerns Sandusky. It isn’t hard for a Christian to believe that the charges against Sandusky are ringing affirmations of the total depravity of humans, but do we move beyond this to conclude that the Sanduskys in our world reveal that they have cast aside the imago dei? Are these persons no longer human beings? The point is not one of guilt or innocence; rather, it concerns what Christians should affirm about others, even when they commit unspeakably evil acts. 

If we believe that all humans are in God’s image and that Christ’s redemption is truly an expression of a grace available to the worst of sinners, do we then look at someone like Sandusky and say, “You are beyond the reach of God’s grace?” 

I’m not asking easy questions and they are hard to answer in an easy fashion when we hear about people like Sandusky, Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy. Perhaps it is even harder to answer such questions when acts of evil happen close to us, but here’s the simple fact: as forgiven Christians, we can’t stick our heads in the sand and avoid these questions and also proclaim the true depth of the Gospel that brings a truly amazing grace.

What Do You Think?

  • How do you wrap your mind around the sort of evil revealed in the Sandusky trial?
  • Has someone like Sandusky cast aside imago dei?
  • Do you believe someone can fall beyond God’s grace?

Comments (2)

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Thank you, Vincent, for this piece. Thank you for having the courage to look squarely through a biblical lens at an awful situation.

I think the proper Christian response to any news story like this is sadness. Not anger—even “righteous” anger. Just sadness. Because as redeemed believers, we have the inside story: we are all like Sandusky in God’s eyes, even if we have not all rebelled in the same way. Seeing a fellow image-bearer convicted of such atrocities should be a sobering reminder that our human heritage is sin, an inclination to evil in our hearts, not the “basic goodness” that secular humanists are convinced we all have.

Grace will always be a scandalous thing. The real stumbling block of the Gospel is that a convicted Sandusky has just as much claim to eternal salvation in Christ as any one of us. There may be degrees of immediate consequences for various crimes in this world, but in God’s eyes, we are all in the same position: separated from Him, in desperate need of a Savior.

My prayer is that Sandusky’s legal conviction will remove obstacles to his own personal repentance and desire for Christ, if he does not already know his Savior. And I pray for healing in his victims’ families, who are the unfortunate casualties of a sin-filled world.

God know i like the way you put that i could have not said it better have a bless life in the lord i always say that we all have mess up one time or another it has always been a struggle with me judging people cause in the eye sight of god sin is sin there is no such thing with god as a little sin or a big one… It’s all the same rather if we all sin at the same time or not.. But i will say this i thank god for the cross cause god knows i need his hand every second and every minute of the day… I do wonder sometime if god was to write across the ski and put our sin’s out there would we look at one another differently i can not agree with you more we have all had our sandusky moments maybe not in that way but we have… I thank god for dieing for me for the sin and mistakes that i have made but i’ve learn from them some people never learn it was a joy reading your story as it was up lifting and inspiring to me it lift my soul so we all have to thank god for people like u in Jesus name Amen.

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