Article Apr 21, 2015

"The Colson Way"

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World.

Chuck Colson was weeping. Not muffled crying—these were wracking sobs. The man whose life revolved around political theater, the need to perform and posture in order to gain position, was not acting. He was distraught.

This was not normal for a man who lived his life from strength to strength. By the time he was forty, Colson had amassed an enviable chest of life victories won by his blend of bravado, determination, and talent. He was not driven only by conquest. Colson was a conservative, a man who followed his gut, and a patriot to the point that he would die for his country.

Colson was also motivated by a powerful sense of pride. He wanted to win. Specifically, he wanted his enterprises and projects and candidates to win, and he went well beyond expectations in this pursuit. This was especially true in Colson’s role as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon, a role he filled from 1969 to 1973. He cut corners, feelings, and did whatever was necessary in his eyes to fulfill his duty to the president.

Colson was not amoral by any stretch, and later press coverage would exaggerate his role in the Watergate affair. Yet here was the essential reality: Colson fit the stereotype of the Nixon White House in the early 1970s. He was a shrewd, successful, and tough political operator. He was fearless, he idealized Nixon, and like the ex-Marine that he was, he went to great lengths to meet and exceed the charge given him by his leader.

Colson was by no means the key participant in numerous unsavory schemes that later came to light. He was, however, a vital and outspoken part of the Nixon administration. This led, in the mid-1970s, to his professional undoing. It also prompted this moment in his car on the road to Dover, Massachusetts, in which for the first time he realized that before the bar of divine justice, he was guilty.

Colson saw his existence in God-centered terms. He now recognized that he was not a “good person,” as one naturally thinks. He was a sinner, accountable to a holy God who had created him and given him all he had. Yet to this point, Chuck had not thanked his Creator, nor sought to know him and honor him. He had instead ignored God, shutting out the central truth of life. This amounted not simply to neglect. It left Chuck “unclean,” a remarkable summation. God was holy; Chuck was not. He was shot through with pride, condemned by his sinfulness, and without any hope of his own.

Here was a crisis Colson could not solve. There was no explanation to give. There was no story to plant. There were no political wheels to turn. Chuck Colson, forty-two years of age, famous the country over, wealthy and accomplished, the conqueror of a challenging background and too many other trials to count, had come to the end of himself. The sense of the divine had once been a flicker. Now it was a blinding light, enveloping Colson, exposing him, undoing him.

As Colson considered his sin, he wept so hard that he could not drive. As he wrote thirty-five years later, “I was crying too hard—and I was not one to ever cry. I spent an hour calling out to God. I did not even know the right words. I simply knew that I wanted Him. And I knew for certain that the God who created the universe heard my cry.” These were not tears of “sadness,” however, but “tears of relief.” As Colson cried, he prayed, over and over, Take me. The man who had evaded even the thought of the Almighty now begged to be his possession.

Chuck Colson was not ruined by Watergate. He was ruined by the gospel of Jesus Christ, which hunted him like a hound of heaven and claimed him when he was at his most vulnerable. He was not looking for God, but God was looking for him. Colson did not simply check the box beside the name “Jesus Christ” on a list of religious options and then go about his life. As he pondered the weight of this event, he saw that he had to turn away from his old self. He had to renounce devious ways. He was forced, most of all, to look his pride in the face. He had a heart of darkness, and his only hope was divine grace.

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