Bill Murchison
The power of redemption is the one concept a cynical, self-regarding epoch -- ours -- can't quite get its arms around, especially, perhaps, in the case of the late Chuck Colson. Can the guy have been right in the head? Wasn't he putting us on with all this Sweet Jesus business he performed in prisons all over the world?

If Colson was dissembling about his hard-won faith in Christ, the result of imprisonment for his part in Watergate -- a possibility I don't accept for a millisecond -- his was an odd way of staging a comeback: witnessing Christ's love to the ickiest congregation imaginable, prison inmates.

He got famous all right, but look at the millions of dollars he left on the table -- book royalties, prize money and the like. Virtually the whole of it he donated to the Prison Fellowship Ministries he founded in 1976. What sensible modern American would do such a thing? The Colson kind of American is just the kind to do such a thing. Because of ... because of ...

Redemption -- the concept we can't get our arms around. Colson could. He got it. Better said: He lived it. Prison and its attendant sufferings made a powerful mark on a man who once said he would walk over his grandmother to get Richard Nixon re-elected.

The much-despised Nixon is perhaps the distorting element in any consideration of Colson's extraordinary rebirth as servant of God. The fact was -- is -- that Colson, in prison, woke up to the painful understanding of an extraordinary reality in the lives of all men and women, Nixonites or not. What he saw with awful clarity was the fallen nature of us all: our capacity, irrespective of political orientation, to decide "right" and "wrong" for ourselves; to walk all over our grandmothers, unless constrained by the inhibitions proceeding from a more gracious place than our hearts.

Colson knew the source of that self-will to be the horrifying reality called sin. Ah. Sin. That's where we really trip up modern people. Does anyone believe that old stuff any more? Colson came to believe it, but in fact, you don't have to "believe" something rationally for it to circle you with open, carnivorous eyes, waiting to pounce. You can say, phooey, or in more modern parlance, "! $ %! %$"! Neither alters the consistent human experience of wayward behavior. "We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts," as the matchless Book of Common Prayer insists, matchlessly. "... And there is no health in us."

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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