A Life Well-Lived
About the Guest
So many people try to achieve “the good life,” only to find that the promise of success just leaves them empty. On today’s broadcast, former White House aide Chuck Colson discusses how the only truly good life is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Chuck ColsonEvangelical Christianity lost one of its most eloquent and influential voices on April 21, 2012 with the death of Charles W. “Chuck” Colson. Colson was the founder of Prison Fellowship and Colson Center for Christian Worldview A Watergate figure who emerged from the country’s worst political scandal, a vocal Christian leader and a champion for prison ministry, Colson spent the last years of his life in the dual role of leading Prison Fellowship, the world’s largest outreach to prisoners...more
So many people try to achieve “the good life,” only to find that the promise of success just leaves them empty.
A Life Well-Lived
Chuck: My great dream is someday to be able to stand in the Supreme Court, every lawyer's dream, and argue his case in the Supreme Court, and I'm convinced if I could argue the case that the biblical view is the only one that conforms to reality that I would win that case, hands down, intellectually, by reason, by arguments, by logic. But that doesn't get you to God. And, as a matter of fact, sometimes the more you know, the tougher it gets.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 2nd. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. There is credible evidence for the reality of the Christian messages, but it takes more than credible evidence to change a man's heart. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, the guest we have with us this week – I don't know – in fact, I'm curious – it's obvious, as you read through what he's written that he's been influenced by C.S. Lewis and by Francis Schaeffer, and I just wonder who wins the battle there – Lewis versus Schaeffer? Who has had more influence in Chuck Colson's life – C.S. Lewis or Francis Schaeffer?
Chuck: I would hate to answer that question, Bob, because both of them have had a huge influence on my life. Lewis would probably, however, if I had to choose between the two, would be number one because it was his arguments in "Mere Christianity" that persuaded me that Christian is rational, reasonable, sustainable, as a matter of fact, nothing else makes sense. And so you will see a lot of Lewis through this book.
In terms of my theology, Schaeffer and before him Abraham Kuiper influenced my perspective on Scripture and the relationship of the church and Scripture to the world. So in two different areas, I am profoundly grateful to those three men.
Bob: Was Schaeffer still alive when you came to faith?
Chuck: Oh, sure. I went to L'Abri and visited with him at his invitation. We spent a day together. It was a wonderful time. He's a very humble man.
Bob: I kind of just jumped in. I guess most of our listeners probably know our guest.
Dennis: I think they recognize the voice of Chuck Colson. Chuck, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Chuck: Thanks, Dennis, nice to be with you.
Dennis: Chuck has written a book called "The Good Life," and you don't have to turn but a couple of pages before you read a quote by Pascal who said, "The supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason."
Chuck: Blaise Pascal is one of the most interesting men ever, and his writings have affected me greatly, as well. But Pascal, who died in his late 30s, was the inventor of the computer. He did the first crude calculating device.
Bob: This isn't some Al Gore thing you're just making up here?
Chuck: Oh, no.
Chuck: This isn't Al Gore inventing the Internet.
Blaise Pascal 300 years ago came up with the concept that has become the computer, but he was also a great philosopher and a great Christian. And what he was basically saying is that reason is a gift of God, and we can use reason to pursue with our minds facts and truth, and the more we look for the facts and truth about life, we will eventually get to the point where we realize reason takes us only so far.
Chuck: And the more we reason – and that's what I do in this book – the more we reason, we get to the place where we have to end up in faith.
Dennis: You tell a story at the beginning of your book that beautifully illustrates that. It's about your daughter, Emily, who is a single parent raising an autistic child, Max.
Chuck: She's a great heroine to me, and Max is the most lovable kid in the world. And I tell the story of why I wrote this book, basically. This book is to try to show people how the world works and how they fit into it, and it's to be non-threatening. It's a book for seekers. That's why it relies on reason for the first two-thirds of the book before it gets to Scripture and faith.
But one thing about autism, as most people perhaps are aware, everything has to be orderly and in just perfect arrangement for an autistic child. When Max comes to our house, he's 14, he's getting to be a big kid. Emily does a wonderful job managing him. When he comes to our house, he checks where all the picture are. Are they all on the wall in the same place. Does the stove work the same way? Has anything changed, and as long as he knows everything is okay, he is at peace.
Well, one night we had a visitor come to the house, and it was unexpected, and he brought a Christmas gift for me, and when he came in the house, Max started to get agitated, and you could see he was going to have what euphemistically called a "meltdown," and, you know, they go out of control, they have a tantrum.
So Emily grabbed a pad and sat down with Max and drew pictures – she's a good artist. She drew little box pictures like a comic strip, and she would say, this man knocking on the door, he's a friend of Grandpa's, they go fishing together, and then she'd draw a little sign of a fishing boat, and then they worked together, and it's Christmas, and he's brought this gift. She drew the picture.
Suddenly, Max understood how his little world at that moment worked, and he calmed down immediately. And what I'm doing in this book is drawing a picture for people the same way Emily drew a picture for Max of how the world works. What things are true, what things aren't true? What can you find about life most of which is through paradoxes? What can you find out that's true about life, and then figure out how you fit in? And, of course, the ultimate question is what is truth? Is there truth, and is it knowable?
The second half of the book is devoted to that question, which, to me, is one that we Christians desperately need to understand how you make that case and then make with our friends and particularly get your kids to understand there is truth, and it is knowable and here is how it's knowable before they go to college or before they leave the home, because the first thing they'll be assaulted with is the statement "There is no truth."
Bob: Do you remember when Timothy McVeigh was executed, and he read as his final statement in life, the poem "Invictus," which ends with "I am the captain of my own destiny." Do you think most people think that that is the – what life is all about?
Chuck: Well, I think a lot of people would say that, because I would have said that before I was converted. And that's a statement of pride. In the case of Timothy McVeigh, it was insufferable arrogance. He was captain of his own ship, master of his own destiny, he could control life. That was Nietsche, the will to power. You can will yourself to this position.
And a lot of people imbibe that because they think that's what they're supposed to think. Deep down inside – no. They know they need things. One of the great studies I cited in this book was done at Dartmouth, and it discovered that human beings are wired, literally, the way we are genetically disposed, the way our brains work, we are wired to connect. In other words, we don't live alone. We live in community, we live with family, we live with friends, we live in a nation. And, secondly, we're wired for God. We are actually searching for a meaningful relationship with the One who created us.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, and most people, out of pride, won't acknowledge it just like I wouldn't, but, oh, I was so desperately hungry, and as soon as I let those defenses go, that guard go down, that night in the driveway in that flood of tears, sure, it came to me. So I'm trying to walk people through that same question in this book.
Dennis: Reason can only take us so far.
Dennis: Faith is what finishes the connection between the human soul.
Dennis: And God.
Dennis: And what you've attempted to do is exhort us to come to the truth, and one of the things I want you to comment on – you just alluded to it briefly a few moments ago. You say that today there is no such thing as reality or, capital T, "Truth" in our culture today. And I think, for the average mom and dad who are raising kids, I don't think they realize, Chuck, what a battleground this is around Truth.
Chuck: This is the battleground. This is the battleground. Is there any reality, is there any ultimate reality …
Dennis: Or is it just opinion?
Chuck: Yeah, is it just your preference versus my preference, and that's what they're being taught in college. Look at popular culture – "The Matrix," the film "The Matrix." What the story of "The Matrix" is all about is that life is nothing but the projection of a computer, and we're simply the product of the computer projection on a screen. Or they get Eastern religions – Eastern religions mean that we don't really exist, we are just a dream in the mind of God. Or they get to a campus or high schools, and they are taught that we arose as single-plant cells out of the primordial soup. So how can there be any – the reality is that we're an accident or the element reality is we don't exist.
So only one way of understanding life; that is, we were created by God, gives you an anchor in element reality. The job is to find it, but, Dennis, you hit the nail on the head – you get to the point where you can prove it. I've gotten so convinced of the truth of the biblical worldview as applied in life against any other worldview, but my great dream as I write in "The Good Life," my great dream is someday to be able to stand in the Supreme Court, every lawyer's dream, and argue his case in the Supreme Court.
And I’m convinced if I could argue the case that the biblical worldview is the only one that conforms to reality, that I would win that case hands down, intellectually, by reason, by arguments, by logic. But that doesn't get you to God. As a matter of fact, sometimes the more you know, the tougher it gets.
But the case for God is, to me, incontrovertible, but it doesn't get you a relationship with God. That's why the last chapter of this book is about faith as the step we have to take. And people say, "Well, I don't want to profess faith because I have doubts." Good! If you didn't have doubts, faith wouldn't be required. If God were as obvious as the tree in the yard, you wouldn't have to have faith, and without faith you can't love Him.
Bob: That's a great quote that you've reflected on many times from Tom Skinner, right?
Dennis: Yeah, in fact, I don't know if you've heard Tom Skinner's quote, but Tom was chaplain of the Washington Redskins.
Dennis: For a number of years, and had an impact in my life, and he gave me a quote, and it goes like this – "I spent a long time trying to come to grips with my doubts when suddenly I realized I better come to grips with what I believe. I have since moved from the agony of questions that I cannot answer, to the reality of answers that I cannot escape, and it's a great relief."
Chuck: Well, that's a great quote.
Dennis: And what happened, Chuck, as Tom Skinner in that quote hit my life at a time of doubt, at a time of spiritual searching and seeking, like you're talking about in your book, and, you know, God works in mysterious ways to get our attention and, in fact, I kept reading your book, and I kept saying, "You know, Chuck is using all these tough circumstances – prisoners, people suffering unjustly, and your daughter, a single parent, raising an autistic child." And I reflected back on just a couple of days ago of walking into a Children's Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, where there was a father who had, along with his wife, gone to have pizza with their four kids the night before.
Six o'clock, they're driving down the highway in Northwest Arkansas and a guy, evidently, goes to sleep at the wheel, they hit one another both going 55 miles an hour. The mother, who was pregnant, three months pregnant at the time, was killed; the son in the back seat had both legs broken; the seven-year-old boy banged his head, and he was in Children's Hospital having been airlifted there. And I stood beside his body, and I wept, I just wept, but I left that room to go back out to talk to a 28-year-old father who is now a widow, and I put my hand on his forearm, and his mother, who had flown in, was there, and they asked me to pray.
And I thought later of the simplicity of that act of acknowledging that there is a God that, you know what? We're not in charge, and He is, and I thought what would someone who has no God, who has no faith, how would they walk into that waiting area?
Chuck: You couldn't. What do you do in the waiting room if you don't know God is a great question. Dennis, that's very powerful, and I can really connect with it, because after this book was finished, just when it was finished, I was thinking, "Boy, my life is really – I've got things together now," you know, "This is good, I've got this book finished and things are really going well," then I hear my son has spine cancer – 51 years old. And it was absolutely shattering. I think the hardest thing anybody can ever face is having a child whose life is in peril.
Three weeks later my daughter, who is so precious to me, Emily, has a melanoma on her leg. So two out of three kids have cancer at the same time. Now, at first it was real tough, because I thought, "God, how could you let this happen to me?" And yet I discovered stronger faith through it and stronger faith with my daughter. My son, the one who has the cancer in the spine is not a believer. He was a freshman at Princeton when I was converted, took a lot of razzing. He's got much more of a scientific mind, and he's been hard to get to, but I think he's going to get there.
But this is when your faith is put to a test. Is this faith real? You find that out in a hospital waiting room, and I found out it's real. I'm more convinced today of the reality of Christ than ever.
Dennis: You know, it's interesting to hear you say that because you're a very bright, intellectual man, well educated. You continue to study the world religions throughout the scope of your life, and yet as you move toward the last phase of your life, you are more convinced …
Chuck: Oh, yeah, much more.
Dennis: … not less.
Chuck: I remember many years ago hearing Malcolm Muggeridge – I don't know how many of our listeners will remember that name, but he was a great writer, a great journalist, who converted late in life, and he said, "I'm more convinced of the reality of Jesus Christ than I am of my own reality." And he was a colorful guy, white hair going all over the place, and he always had a wonderful chuckle. I was with him once for tea, and he was talking about this, and I thought, "Well, he's an old man." At that point, he was the same age I am now, and I think – and I said this is a bit of hyperbole. You know, it isn't. The spiritual world actually animates the physical world. So I think it's right. I think we are more convinced of the reality of Christ than I am of my own reality. And the more I study the more convinced I get.
Bob: As a dad trying to raise kids who will pursue the good life, as you've defined it here, in a culture that is increasingly trying to point them in other directions, I'll tell you how I became aware of the struggle that I was in the midst of.
A year ago when the issue of gay marriage was in the news, one of my children was asked to write a paper on it at school, and I could tell there was a real wrestle between the desire to be compassionate and the desire to be truthful, and I thought, "Where is this going to end up?" And I really do wonder where it's going to end up in the culture not just with my kids but with all of our kids. How can we, today, point our kids in this direction?
Chuck: Well, I think this is, of course, a great question, Bob, and I was just talking with a father this morning about that very question – how do you do this with kids? First of all, you've got to explain to them that there is an order to life. I mean, life does work a certain way, and sin is nothing but, as Neil Plantinga, a great theologian at Calvin Seminary says, "Sin is nothing but folly, foolishness, because it's like walking into a room blindfolded, and you don't know where you're going to hit the furniture."
You've got to know how the world is organized in order to live rationally, and you can't do that if the relationship doesn't conform to the way the world works. If everybody were homosexuals, there wouldn't be any children. So you can't tell me that it's normative, it isn't normative, it can't be normative by definition. And I make the natural order arguments, which, over the years, Catholics have been much better at than we are, but evangelicals always use the Bible because it is our primary source of knowledge, obviously. But it won't wash with people. The natural order argument is very, very important.
Bob: So that's where we've got to point our kids.
Chuck: That's where we point our kids – explaining the reality of the way the world works.
Dennis: You conclude your book talking about how the good life ultimately ends in death, which can result in new life. And throughout the book you use illustrations of people who illustrate the good life positively and negatively, and as you talk about the end of a matter; that is, death, you use two illustrations. One is a funeral you and I attended where Bill Bright was honored for his life; and another illustration you use was a funeral neither of us attended, because there was none – John Ehrlichman, a Watergate figure. Just quickly contrast John's life with Bill's life.
Chuck: Well, John Ehrlichman, I went back to see when he invited me to – when he was in the nursing home in Atlanta, everything had collapsed in his life. He'd been through three marriages, his family abandoned him. He had nothing. He was penniless and powerless, once one of the most powerful men in the world. And he wanted to see me because the doctor had told him that he could get a shot of morphine and put himself out of misery.
I was shocked. I spent an hour talking about the dignity of life and the meaning of life. I don't know whether it sank it or not. A friend of mine went back and prayed with him and, hopefully, he received Christ. I'd like to think he did before he died, but he died alone in the nursing home with nobody around him, having given up on life. I can't think of a more despairing story.
Contrast that with Bill Bright, and I remember being with you at the funeral, Dennis, and what a great experience that was – what a joyous day that was for Bill's celebration of his life. But Bill, when he learned he had pulmonary fibrosis, which is one of the most difficult ways to die, you're slowly suffocating, and it's agonizing death, and the doctor told him how bad it was going to be, and Bill said, "Praise the Lord, this is what God wants."
Throughout that two, three-year period that Bill knew he was dying, maybe one of the most productive periods in his ministry. He wrote all kinds of things, did constant videos. I'd go see him in his apartment, he had the oxygen strapped to him, and he never was without a smile, and always giving me ideas, "And here is something you can do in the ministry, Chuck." He was an extraordinary man, and when he died, Vonette was with him and whispered to him, "It's all right," and he turned his head, and he died peacefully.
And we have to know that if you're going to live the good life, it contemplates a good death, it contemplates facing it with equanimity because you know you're going to be with the Lord, and dying with grace to the extent you can. I mean, obviously, some people are in terrible pain. But Bill Bright set the gold standard for me.
Dennis: He really did. He showed us how to live and how to die.
Chuck: And how to die, yup.
Dennis: There may be a man or a woman listening to this broadcast, perhaps a boy or a girl, who goes, "You know what? It's time for me to have that faith experience that you talked about where you had to pull the car off to the side of the road and receive Christ." Would you explain to them what they need to do? Just at their point where they are right now, of how they can connect with God and know they're forgiven all their sins.
Chuck: It's maddeningly simple, and the problem with it is that people think there's got to be more to that – "I've got to do some good works, I've got to do something to show that I'm a good person. I'm really not. My life is a mess right now. I'll clean up my life first before I come to God." Wrong, you can't clean up your life. You are incapable of cleaning up your life, and God doesn't want you to even try. What He wants you to do is surrender – the humblest possible surrender. Get rid of your pride, which is the great enemy, and simply say, "Lord Jesus, I want You in my life. Forgive me of my sins." Let Him worry about cleaning them up.
When I came to Him, I had a ton of sins, and there were some He could immediately erase, there were some He had to work on with me for a while, and that's part of the process of sanctification. It's a joint process between us and between God. But what it takes is a simple act of faith, recognizing that your doubts are a good thing. I liked what you said about Tom Skinner. That was a marvelous quote.
Your doubts are a good thing. If you didn't have doubts, you wouldn't take God seriously, and you wouldn't need God. We need Him because He settles the question for us, and He's made it so easy for just us to turn to Him as long as we are genuinely repentant and ask Him to come in and take our lives.
Dennis: And He'll take us at our word at that point and make us a new creation in Christ.
Chuck: You know, people say, "Does God answer prayers?" He answers the prayer of every single person who says, "Jesus, take me."
Bob: And that puts you on the path for the good life, doesn't it?
Dennis: It does, it does, it does.
Chuck: It is the good life.
Dennis: Yeah, it is. Chuck, I want to thank you for being on FamilyLife Today and, you know, someday I hope you get a chance to go to the Supreme Court and argue …
Chuck: Argue that case?
Dennis: Argue for Jesus Christ and why Christianity should be the worldview of every living human being.
Bob: I'm just afraid you still get a 5 to 4 against in this current …
Chuck: With this Court I would get exactly that – 5 to 4 against.
Dennis: Thanks for being here.
Chuck: God bless you guys, thanks.
Bob: Maybe what our listeners ought to do is go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and get copies of your book, "The Good Life," and send a copy to everybody who is on the court and to their clerks as well.
We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. In addition to Chuck's book, we have other books that are designed to help you think about not only formulating a biblical worldview but how you can engage those around you in the kind of conversation that will open the door to being able to share your faith and to engage them in spiritual dialog.
Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com, and you'll find a number of resources there that we think are very helpful. You can also call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. When you do get in touch with us, someone on our team will let you know how you can have the resources you need sent to you.
And with that, we've got to wrap things up for today. I hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend in church, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when were going to talk about the power of praying for your family. I'm not just talking about praying for your children but praying for the generations to come – Sammy Tippit will be with us on Monday. I hope you will be back with us as well.
I want to say thanks today to our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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