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The Second Chance
Doesn't everyone want a second chance? If we didn't give second chances, what kind of lives would we have?

"It's hard for me to say, I'm sorry," sings the multi-platinum selling group Chicago.

It's even harder for people to forgive, as proven in the case of Vancouver Canuck star Todd Bertuzzi.

The Second Chance
Todd Bertuzzi

While the power forward has been recently reinstated by the NHL, many people won't let him forget his blindside punch to the head of Colorado's Steve Moore, in a game that occurred almost a year and a half ago.

No question, Bertuzzi's attack was wrong. Yet he's publicly declared his remorse.

"I've had a lot of sleepless nights trying to think of things but … I can't go back and change what happened," a humbled Bertuzzi told the press in August. "The only thing I can do is come back even stronger, a better person off the ice and a better person on the ice."

Despite his sincere apology, some people refuse to forgive the 30-year-old player.

"I'm a firm believer in second chances," Bertuzzi continued, "and if we're going to go through life not giving anyone second chances, what kind of life are we going to have?"

Chuck Colson, former advisor to President Nixon, knows what it's like to have people unwilling to give him a second chance. He was reminded of this recently with the unveiling of "Deep Throat's" identity as former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt.

Appointed as the president's Special Counsel in 1969, Colson became known as Nixon's "hatchet man" and was quick to brag, "I'd walk over my own grandmother to re-elect Richard Nixon."

While he never had to go that far, Colson organized the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in September 1971. He hoped that revelations about Ellsberg — who disclosed the Pentagon Papers unveiling the truth behind the Vietnam War — could be used to discredit the politically-damaging information.

However, the break-in only led to more government secrets revealed by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose source was Felt, second in command at the FBI.

"I can identify with Mark Felt," shared 74-year-old Colson with Living Light News. "What he did is what I did. He put his cause — which was to bring down Nixon — ahead of the law … because he thought he was pursuing a noble cause. So did I. That's exactly what I did."

For awhile, Colson's actions went undetected.

In the spring of 1973, Colson left the White House to work for a prestigious law firm. Despite his financial and corporate success, he was dissatisfied.

"Something was desperately wrong in my life," he writes in his new book, The Good Life (Tyndale, 2005). "I had no sense of joy or fulfillment. 'What's the meaning of all this?' I wondered. 'Is this all life can be?' 'Is this as good as it gets?' "

The Second Chance
Chuck Colson
Photo courtesy Planned TV Arts

In the months that followed, as the scandal deepened, Colson decided to meet with his friend, Tom Phillips, whose life had radically changed since Colson first entered government.

"I was in the depths of deep despair over Watergate," admitted Colson in his weekly commentary, "watching the president I had helped for four years flounder in office. I had also heard that I might become a target of the investigation as well. In short, my world was collapsing."

Meanwhile, Colson observed an obvious peace in Phillips. When questioned about it, the president of the Raytheon Company responded, "Chuck, I have accepted Jesus Christ and committed my life to Him."

At a later meeting, Phillips shared a passage with his friend about pride from C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.

"As Phillips was reading … I thought about my insufferable arrogance," Colson confesses. "Oh sure, I had done good deeds for people and took care of the underdog … my smug sense of self-righteousness hid my total self-obsession."

He continues, "The truth suddenly made sense. As C. S. Lewis wrote, someone who is so proud and so wrapped up in himself and so capable of rationalizing anything could not possibly see something immeasurably greater than himself — God."

That night, the former Marine Captain and "hatchet man" wept.

"For the first time in my life I had looked inside of my own heart and detested what I saw. I felt unclean, ashamed, horribly alone and horribly lost … I found myself in those moments almost involuntarily crying out: 'God, I don't know the right words, and I'm not much, but please take me. Take me just the way I am.' … I experienced a feeling of total surrender and total release. I knew at that moment God was real, personal, and had heard my prayers."

Eventually Colson's conversion was leaked to the press. Since he was known as a man incapable of "humanitarian thought," and had been convicted of involvement in the scandal, the Boston Globe wrote, "If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody."

Many were unwilling to trust Colson's intentions, however, speculating that his conversion was merely a tactic for lessening his sentence.

… we have more difficulty forgiving ourselves than God has forgiving us.

In 1974, Colson was found guilty of obstruction of justice in the Ellsberg case, and sentenced to Alabama's Maxwell Correctional Facility. His was the first in a string of convictions resulting from the Watergate scandal.

To this day, Colson says, some people are still unwilling to give him a second chance. Yet his personal relationship with Jesus Christ has shown him that "the problem most people have, myself included, is we have more difficulty forgiving ourselves than God has forgiving us.

"It's because forgiveness is an act that requires a humbling of oneself," Colson explains to Living Light News. "We're built as proud, defiant individuals. Everything in our society exalts that, so it's very tough to forgive ourselves."

Yet through Christ's sacrifice, forgiveness is available to anyone who humbles himself before God. In the book of 1 John (1:9), it reads, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Over the years, Colson has undergone a complete transformation. Once obsessed with power and self, he now lives to serve God and others.

"I can't think of one area of my life that hasn't changed!" he exclaims. "I now have a completely different attitude towards people; I have a completely different set of priorities, and I find satisfaction in very different things. I delight in seeing other people do well; I used to be self-centered and narcissistic."

Today, the author of more than 20 books devotes much of his time to inmates he promised never to forget, through Prison Fellowship Ministries. Founded in 1976, this international network of Christians supports prisoners and their families, with offices in 105 countries. It's founded on the belief that spiritual renewal is the solution to crime.

Colson would know.

"Because of Watergate, I'm doing things that are much more meaningful in my life," he concludes.

"I've been forgiven, for which I have much to be forgiven."

Emily Wierenga is the associate editor of Living Light News.

Originally published in Living Light News, September/October 2005.




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