Chuck Colson and the Conscience of a Hatchet-Man
These tactics weren't pioneered by the Nixon White House, or by the Johnson machine before it. These tactics of accusation are as old as the human race; in fact, older. The satanic powers hold humanity in captivity, the Bible teaches, through accusation and fear of death (Heb. 2:15; Rev. 12:10). The gospel doesn't just "pardon." The gospel gets at the root of the accusation, and brings about justice by uniting the sinner to an arrested, indicted, and executed Humanity, in the cross of Jesus, and by uniting that sinner to a righteous, sinless, and vindicated Humanity, in the resurrected Christ. That's why Colson didn't hide in an apartment somewhere, but spoke so openly of his sin, and identified himself with broken men and women with guilty consciences and criminal records.
Colson had every reason to be ashamed. Virtually every word he spoke in the Nixon White House was recorded and transcribed, and laid open for everyone from the House Judiciary Committee to his next-door neighbors to see. His own words proved him to be ruthless, manipulative, and, at times, craven. But all of our words are transcribed, the Bible tells us. They are embedded in a conscience that points us toward a Judgment Day in which every idle word and thought is revealed, and all is laid bare (Rom. 2:15-16). Like Nixon and his cronies, we want to obstruct that justice. If only we could erase the "tapes," and sear over our consciences, we reason, everything will be okay. In trying to win the campaign of our own attempts at self-justification, we've rebelled against a higher authority than the United States Constitution. We've broken into temples more sacred than the Watergate Hotel.
A generation ago, the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd sang back to a culture basking in the glory of a repudiated and humiliated Nixon White House. They sang, "Now Watergate does not bother me; Does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth." That's still the question.
When you read those who smirk and dismiss the Chuck Colson conversion, the Chuck Colson life, don't get angry and don't be outraged. Read a subtext that belongs to all of us: the fear that the criminal conspiracy we've all been a part of will be exposed, and just can't be forgiven. Read the undercurrent of those who find it hard to believe that one can be not just pardoned, but "born again." That's indeed hard to believe. An empty grave in Jerusalem is all we have on which to base that claim, a claim that speaks louder than our own accusing hearts.
I have to believe that when Chuck Colson opened his eyes in the moments after death that he didn't hear anything about break-ins or dirty tricks or guilty consciences. I have to believe Mr. Colson heard a Galilean voice saying, "I was in prison and you visited me" (Matt. 25:36). I have to believe that he stood before his Creator with a new record, a new life transcript, one that belonged not to himself but to a Judean day-laborer who is now the ruler of the cosmos. And in that Lamb's Book of Life there are no eighteen minute gaps.
That's good news for guilty consciences, good news for recovering hatchet men and women like us.
Russell D. Moore is the dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He blogs at "Moore to the Point," www.russellmoore.com
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More articles on Colson, his death, and his legacy include:
Evangelical Leader Chuck Colson Dead at 80 | The infamous convicted Nixon adviser became famous for prison reform, evangelical-Catholic dialogue, and his Christian worldview.
Remembering Charles Colson, a Man Transformed | The real story of how "Nixon's hatchet man" ended up in, out, and back in prison (and the White House), shaping a movement in the process. Jonathan Aitken
Q & A: Karl Rove on Colson President Bush's deputy chief of staff explains the former Nixon adviser's widespread impact. Interview by Sarah Pulliam Bailey
The Legacy of Prisoner 23226 | After leaving prison, Charles Colson became one of America's most significant social reformers (July 9, 2001)
Colson was a regular columnist for Christianity Today from 1985 until his death.