Charles Colson died a year ago this month at the age of 82. By the time he was 42 years old he had served in the Marines, been a senior partner in a prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm, was special counsel to the president of the United States, and a convicted felon for obstruction of justice in the Watergate scandal. The Wall Street Journal referred to him in a headline article as: “Nixon Hatchet Man. Call It What You Will, Chuck Colson Handles President’s Dirty Work.” The first half of his life culminated in the personal destruction of his career, family, reputation and his prideful heart. But for the next 40 years – the rest of his life – Chuck Colson lived a transformed life that impacted millions around the world for the cause of Christ.
Born Again at 42
In 1973 in the midst of his legal problems, Colson went to visit the home of a former client, Tom Phillips, president of the Raytheon Company. When Colson mentioned to his friend that he had heard that Phillips had become involved in some religious activities, Phillips replied, “Yes, that’s true, Chuck, I have accepted Jesus Christ. I have committed my life to him, and it has been the most marvelous experience of my whole life.” Colson was stunned and diverted the conversation to safer subjects. As he left that evening, Phillips said, “I’d like to tell you the whole story someday, Chuck. I had gotten to the point where I didn’t think my life was worth living. Now everything has changed.”
The reference to an empty life struck a raw nerve with Colson. Later that summer Colson called Tom Phillips and was invited to his home. Phillips shared about Jesus and read to him from C. S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity where a description of pride as a cancer that prevents a person from knowing God hit Chuck to the core. Back in his own car, in Phillips’ driveway, Colson began crying uncontrollably and prayed to God over and over through tears, “Take me! Take me!” His life would never be the same.
Chuck Colson’s commitment to his new-found faith in Christ was supported by other Christian men, many who were also power brokers in Washington. With support he decided to plead guilty to a Watergate crime of which he had not been charged – passing derogatory information to the press about Daniel Ellsberg, an antiwar activist. He was sentenced to a prison term of one to three years. A skeptical media and his political opponents watched him serve 7 months, after which he was released by a compassionate judge because his family was breaking apart while he was away in jail.
A New Life and Purpose
Struck by his experiences in prison, two years later in 1976 Chuck Colson founded Prison Fellowship, which today is the nation’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. In 1983 he founded Justice Fellowship, which sought bi-partisan, legislative reforms in the U.S. criminal justice system. Over the rest of his life Colson focused on public speaking, radio commentary (1400 outlets), writing over 30 books and promoting the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, a research, study and networking center for growing in a Christian worldview.
No, it’s never too late to reconfigure and redirect a life. Throughout a prolific and profound second-half, Chuck Colson, like his spiritual forerunner, C. S. Lewis, found that his God-given gifts and intellect, finally free of pride and ambition, could be used for much good for others and God’s kingdom.
“I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News…. And because of my imprisonment, many of the Christians here have gained confidence and become more bold in telling others about Christ.” – Philippians 1:12-14