I’ve been frustrated reading obituaries about Chuck Colson that seem to be stuck in the 70’s—as if Chuck Colson’s whole life was lived between the years 1968-1974. It has been a colossal fail on the part of mainstream reporters.
And then Michael Gerson comes in for the save. Thanks be to God for Michael Gerson’s tender, poignant reflections that really do get the measure of the man. Gerson writes:
Charles W. Colson — who spent seven months in prison for Watergate-era offenses and became one of the most influential social reformers of the 20th century — was the most thoroughly converted person I’ve ever known.
Following Chuck’s recent death, the news media — with short attention spans but long memories — have focused on the Watergate portion of his career. They preserve the image of a public figure at the moment when the public glare was harshest — a picture taken when the flash bulbs popped in 1974.
But I first met Chuck more than a decade after he left the gates of Alabama’s Maxwell prison. I was a job-seeking college senior, in whom Chuck detected some well-hidden potential as a research assistant. In him, I found my greatest example of the transforming power of grace. I had read many of the Watergate books, in which Chuck appears as a character with few virtues apart from loyalty. I knew a different man. The surface was recognizable — the Marine’s intensity, the lawyer’s restless intellect. The essence, however, had changed. He was a patient and generous mentor. And he was consumed — utterly consumed — by his calling to serve prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families.
Many wondered at Chuck’s sudden conversion to Christianity. He seemed to wonder at it himself. He spent each day that followed, for nearly 40 years, dazzled by his own implausible redemption. It is the reason he never hedged or hesitated in describing his relationship with Jesus Christ. Chuck was possessed, not by some cause, but by someone.
He stood in a long line of celebrated converts, beginning with the Apostle Paul on the Damascus road, and including figures such as John Newton, G.K. Chesterton and Malcolm Muggeridge. They were often received with skepticism, even contempt. Conversion is a form of confession — a public admission of sin, failure and weakness. It brings out the scoffers. This means little to the converted, who have experienced something more powerful than derision. In his poem, “The Convert,” Chesterton concludes: “And all these things are less than dust to me/ Because my name is Lazarus and I live.”
This obituary is a must-read. Gerson should win the Pulitzer for this one. You can get the rest of it here.