The worst enemy

The late Chuck Colson was President Nixon’s counsel during the Watergate affair. He was an honors graduate of Brown University and George Washington Law School.  He’d been a captain in the Marine Corps. He had his own law firm. 

Early in his career, Colson had been proud of his personal ethics, and would go to great lengths to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. He was “absolutely certain that no one could corrupt me.” 

But he became famous as the “Hatchet Man” and the “evil genius” of the Nixon Administration. He once bragged, “I would walk over my own grandmother,” to get Nixon re-elected in 1972.

While Colson was facing charges for his role in the Watergate affair, a friend gave him a copy of the book Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, and he became a Christian.  When he announced that he’d been “born again” the political pundits howled.

Colson had relearned the ancient truth that our culture has rejected—the Christian doctrine of sin. The problem is not that some of us are good and some of us are bad.  The problem is that all of us are sinners. It’s just that in some of us, the seeds of evil haven’t yet been watered. 

Colson said, “I had a self-righteousness about me. Self-righteousness is the worst enemy of all because you can’t see your own sins. I ended up going to prison because of that.”

Colson realized that he was exactly like the other prisoners. People he would have never had anything to do with before were now his brothers. 

Colson once visited a prison in Brazil that was run on Christian principles. The recidivism rate was only 4%, compared with 75% in the rest of the country. Colson was wondering how this was possible when his inmate guide took him to the cell once used for torture. The man said the cell block only had a single inmate. As they reached the cell, the inmate asked Colson if he was sure he wanted to go in. 

“Of course,” he said. “I’ve been in isolation cells all over the world.”

So the man swung open the door. The only prisoner was a crucifix which had been carved by the inmates. The prisoner was Jesus hanging on a cross.

“He’s doing time for the rest of us,” the guide said.

Fish story

Some bible stories are hard for modern people to wrap our minds around. For example, the bible says Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and then three days later he was spit out on dry land.

But the fish has nothing to do with our problem with the Jonah story.

If God really is God; if God created the universe out of nothing; maneuvering one fish to swallow a runaway prophet is no big deal.

Our real problem with the Jonah story is that we don’t think it applies to us. Our real problem is that we fail to see ourselves as Jonah.

When we read Jonah, it’s easy to see his problem. He’s self-righteous. He can’t find any good reason for what God is calling him to do, so he must be right, and God must be wrong. He can’t see that God might actually know better than he does what’s best for him.

Self-righteousness is the reason we don’t think the Jonah story applies to us. Self-righteousness is what keeps us from seeing ourselves as God sees us. Self-righteousness is why we won’t listen to our spouse, our friends, or our pastors. We think we know better than them too, so we take offense. We run the other way.

But if God is offended by our self-righteousness, he has a funny way of showing it.  In Jonah’s case, God sent a ship with a pagan crew, a storm, and a fish to get Jonah to see God’s better way.

I wonder if God could be using the storms that come into our lives in the same way.

Instead of imagining what it might be like to be swallowed by a fish, perhaps we could imagine why God would have to go to such great lengths to get our attention.