How do we reconcile the recently deceased ”hatchet man” of the Watergate scandal versus the “humble” (and perhaps even holy) man of prison ministry? Who wouldn’t be a skeptic in the face of two different people manifested in one man – a ruthless political operator and a servant of Jesus Christ? What comes between that time of being a ruthless person and living one’s life as a servant of God? The short answer is failure, brokenness, and repentance. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer said “it is in our pain and in our brokenness that we come the closest to Christ,” and that is what Chuck Colson (and all the men he helped in prison throughout the world) would also tell you.
Chuck Colson was not at all an “evil genius” as the Associated Press described him in their obituary. He did perform a handful of dirty tricks during the 1968 and 1972 Presidential elections, but so did a lot of other folks, both Democrat and Republican. Besides doing things such as funding false committees and getting Ted Kennedy photographed in a Paris nightclub dancing cheek to cheek with a starlet, Colson did contribute and encourage an unsavory moral climate in the Nixon White House from 1968-1972. However, the tapes of him conversing with Nixon did not provide a lot of hard evidence against Colson so the prosecutors had a problem. What the prosecutors didn’t know was that Colson had embarked on a spiritual journey that would take him to prison with a remarkable plea of “guilty” to the Watergate-related crimes.
Colson left the White House under a cloud of suspicion and attempted to rebuild his life as an attorney. He admitted to having no moral compass during the first 41 years of his life, and when he met with Tom Phillips, CEO of Raytheon in an effort to land some of Raytheon’s legal business, he met a man on fire for Jesus Christ. Now Colson, of course, was a skeptic and thought all of this talk of the Gospel was “pure Pollyanna.” But he read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, and was thunderstruck by the chapter on pride. Of course the “old ways” were not easily put to rest and, as Colson began to pray and meet with other men about the Gospel, his was still a soul in torment.
But the journey to a changed life had begun, and Chuck Colson went from self-centeredness, self-deception, and self-justification to Christ-centeredness and justification by faith. He was no longer deceiving himself, and the extraordinary proof of that came when Colson, against the advice of his own attorney, plead guilty to the Watergate-related crimes. To plead guilty was a legal oddity and Colson had to find a unique section of the criminal code to do this. The judge accepted his plea and Colson was sentenced to a one-to-three-year prison term. After serving seven months, he was paroled and wrote a bestselling book, Born Again, and founded Prison Fellowship, the Christian ministry that offers prayerful and practical support to those in prison in more than 150 countries worldwide.
For half of his life, Chuck Colson lived with little regard for God and others. For the last half, he gave all his time and attention to God and others. He crossed the bridge to new life with past failures nipping at his heels and a life in disarray. When he finally admitted his wrongdoing, his life changed more than he could have imagined. Chuck heard the “still small voice” of God and not only obeyed it – but also stayed faithful to it. This is the Christian life to which we are all called. God changed this man and used him for good. I wish that we call could be so fortunate.”The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar”, Act 3, Scene 2.