How do you take the measure of a man? Is it the sum total of his accomplishments? The power he obtained in life? The money and material goods he amassed? Or is it something else? Charles Colson, who first came into the public eye as a senior aide in the Nixon White House and who passed away Saturday after a brief illness, would likely have argued it had something to do with the amount of time spent helping others.
As his obituaries have all taken pains to recount, Colson was the "hatchet man" in the Nixon White House, the fellow who famously said he'd run over his own grandmother to see Nixon elected to a second term and who had a cartoon on his office wall that said, "When you've got them by the balls their hearts and minds will follow."
He was a man who at one time seemed to have all the power in the world, sitting as he did at the right hand of the leader of the free world, but who lost it as the direct result of his own misdeeds. Colson was to surrender his office and, for a time, his liberty. But it was when he chose to surrender his life that he really began to make a difference.
As the website of the group he founded recounts, "In 1974 the Watergate scandal sent White House special counsel Chuck Colson to federal prison. A new Christian, he faced challenges and adversities that tested his faith and self respect."
Paroled in 1975, Colson "could easily have opted to close the book on that dark time and move on with his life as inconspicuously as possible. But Chuck knew that God wanted him to hold onto his ties to prison and continue to identify with his fellow prisoners—despite the skepticism and scorn of Chuck's critics. So in 1976, with little more than a vision and the support of a few friends, Chuck began Prison Fellowship to proclaim to inmates the love and the power of Jesus Christ."
It was in this endeavor that Colson found his true calling—starting programs that touched thousands of lives and helped those whom many would call "the worst among us" find peace, redemption, and hope for a better and brighter future. The group's vision, "That Jesus Christ's transforming grace and truth be manifested in the lives of prisoners and their families, as the local church and Prison Fellowship partner in Christ's work to restore prisoners to the community and Church as contributing members, bearing witness that no life is beyond the reach of God's power," was made manifest through Colson's tireless work on behalf of those whom society had cast away.
In the end it was his misdeeds that pointed him in the direction of his greatest accomplishments. In a sense the sin was a necessary prerequisite for the salvation, which may not be biblical but appears to be the case here. Colson's work reminds us of the potential for good in all of us.