So what do you say to your teenage daughter about this?
A 52 year old former school bus driver in Cleveland held three women captive in his home for almost a decade. It all would have stayed hidden were it not for Amanda Berry’s screams last Monday which alerted neighbors and police that something was wrong—deeply, horrifically, sadistically wrong.
Now Ariel Castro faces multiple charges of kidnapping and rape. Ten years ago three girls suddenly disappeared from the area when he lured them into his car, offering a ride home from school or work. At that moment Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight’s life became, what the media described as “a descent into hell.”
The prosecuting attorney also resorted to theological language when he described Castro’s “premeditated, deliberate and depraved decisions to snatch three young ladies from Cleveland’s west side streets to use for whatever self-gratifying, self-serving ways that he saw fit.”
The girls were secluded and chained in confinement, beaten, starved, repeatedly sexually assaulted, and threatened with death if they did not cooperate. I hesitate to add the rest of the details because they are so terribly twisted.
So what do I say to my teenage daughter about this? Mind you, it is all over the news. No doubt her friends are talking about it at school.
When she was younger, I deliberately shielded her from things like this. Kids lose their “innocence” soon enough. We did not want her exposed to the worst of the world.
But we did try to immerse her mind in the truths of the Bible. By memorizing Scripture and reviewing basic Christian doctrine, she would hear things like this—
Q: Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A: The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.
(That is Question 17 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.)
The verses attached to it included Romans 5.12: Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.
So even though she was not exposed to details of heinous crimes, she learned a theology that gave her perspective before the inevitable exposure. She learned that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (ESV Jeremiah 17.9).
“Sin and misery”? At first, I am sure it sounded overstated to my daughter. But as she has grown older, and heard of Newtowns, Boston bombers, persecuted Nigerian Christians, and the girls of Cleveland, let alone seen the unique depravity of middle school girls, I am sure she has a basic understanding of the darkness of the human heart.
And as we talk at the dinner table, we have told her that the world, beautiful as it sometimes looks, is in crisis. It is badly broken—radically disordered, morally and spiritually dislocated.
And on top of all this, we have told her that, just as there is a real Holy Spirit, there is also a real unholy spirit, diabolos, the Devil, our adversary who throws himself at the truth, and loves to destroy lives.
So, she heard that things were bad. She may not have believed us as we taught these truths, but at least she had Biblical categories to process wickedness.
And now she is getting a sense of just how corrupt the world really is. It is hitting home.
So what else do we do?
We teach her the gospel. We tell her that there is someone who will judge the world in righteousness. There is one who can forgive sins and change the human heart. And there is someone who will put away all oppression and injustice and remake the world. For he has defeated the adversary.
We teach her to be discerning and understand the dark capacities of the human heart—while at the same time, we teach her that people are capable of kindness and decency. In other words we try to strike a Biblical balance– we want her to love people and live with confidence, but we do not want her to be naïve and walk into a stranger’s trap. We do not want her to be unaware of the nature of sexual violence and assault that is all too common in our land.
I suppose, one of these days, I may even have her take a class in self defense. I want her to be courageous and to stand up to what is wrong. But I want her to draw a deeper security from a gospel hope that is rooted in Christ and can speak to the most gruesome news and realities that come her way.
That’s what I say. What do you say to your teenage daughter about the nightmares like Cleveland?