The Good Life: Seeking Purpose, Meaning, and Truth in Your Lifeby Charles W. Colson
Reflecting on his own story and the stories of others, Chuck Colson examines the beliefs and assumptions that form the fabric of our lives. You'll read about: The king of corporate scandals, The woman the Chinese Cultural Revolution couldn't break, The most tragic figure from Watergate, A man recovering from same-sex attraction, The film characters who say the most about what's happening in culture now.
The Good Life searches for answers to the questions we all ask: Who am I? Why am I here? How can I find significance in my life? How can I make my life count? These are the core questions and the central passions of this book. Your answers to these questions will determine how your life story is written.
- Tyndale House Publishers
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the GOOD LIFE
By CHARLES COLSON HAROLD FICKETT
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Charles Colson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Unavoidable Question
An old man walks down a wide path through a colonnade of evergreens. He has a full head of gray hair, combed from a wavy peak to one side. His eyebrows spike with a grandfatherly flourish toward his temples. He wears a light blue Windbreaker over a golf shirt with a horizontal stripe, Sansabelt slacks, and the crepe-soled shoes his doctor recommended. His gait is quick but stiff-stiff like someone who has just gotten himself up. He marches forward with great intent and purpose, as if he's hunting out something or someone.
Behind him trail his family. His wife is closest, his son and daughter-in-law a step or two farther behind, bracketing their children.
The man's eyes show that for the moment he's not thinking of his family, although he seems to be dragging them in his wake. His eyes are at once wide-open yet fixed, poached by what can only be dread. His mouth works in a way that shows his stomach is in his throat. Off to the left his family can see the curve of a long shore, hear the soughing of the waves, and nearly breathe in the scent of the brine. But the man looks neither to his right nor to his left. He keeps stumbling forward, his body tense yet determined.
When he finally turns to his right, he steps onto a vast lawn striped with thousands of white crosses that extend toward the horizon. Here and there a Jewish star adds to the procession of markers that contrast starkly against the green sward. The old man's pace speeds as he makes his way through this vast cemetery. His family struggles to keep up.
James Ryan's determined march finally halts in front of a particular cross. The rims of his eyes show red. He wipes at them with a shaking hand, sniffs hard, tries again to breathe. Here it is, his captain's cross, the name, the date: Captain John W. Miller, June 13, 1944.
He takes another sniff against his watering eyes, bites his lip. He's almost choking as he struggles to breathe in the heavy air. His knees give way, and he kneels before the cross, his shoulders heaving. His wife is suddenly at one shoulder, his son at the other. He's glad they are there, but they cannot help with what needs to be done.
He mumbles that he's all right, and they retreat several steps, leaving him to the thoughts that press so hard he can't bear the weight.
Not until this moment does he realize that what he has been looking forward to yet dreading is a transaction. An exchange of some kind. For him this visit to the Normandy American Cemetery is no sightseeing tour. It's a profound action. Even now he cannot say why he believes this to be the case. The emotion that's seized him declares it to be so, however.
Whatever must happen involves the question that's dogged him his whole life. The unspoken question that's brought him here. He feels its presence in every memory, and not only the good ones.
Now that he's looking at his captain's grave, Ryan has to ask the question.
Decades earlier, on June 6, 1944, Captain Miller and his men had landed at Omaha Beach, a horror James Ryan had been spared as part of the 101st Airborne. His unit had been dropped into Normandy the night before the sea assault. He later learned from the tales of his buddies and from seeing newsreel footage what D-day had been like. Although Germany had not been expecting the assault at the place Eisenhower chose, the air assault hadn't softened their positions one whit, and when the armored front of the Higgins boats opened onto the beach, the men were ducks on a pond to the enemy's machine guns. Many of those sitting forward in the landing craft never had a chance to move from their seats as the Germans opened fire. Those who jumped over the craft's sides to swim and crawl ashore could only cling to the Belgian gates and iron hedgehogs-the jack-shaped defensive works strewn in rows all along the shingle that prevented tanks from making the initial assault.
The army rangers humped forward in waves, men falling to the right and left every few feet. They were getting hit not only by machine-gun fire but by artillery as well. Bodies flew with the explosions. The wounded picked up their severed arms and stumbled a few more feet to their deaths. The waves washing onto the beaches ran red with blood, lapping at the dead, who lay scattered and senseless.
Captain Miller and a few of his company made it to the seawall. Although 50 percent of the men in the first waves to hit Omaha Beach were killed in action, the others broke the first line of German defenses.
Soon after the hell of D-Day, Captain Miller and a squad of seven men were assigned to find paratrooper James Ryan and bring him home-alive. The army's chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, had personally issued the order for Private James Ryan to be taken out of the war. Ryan's two older brothers had died in the great assault, and a third brother had been killed in action in New Guinea. Marshall thought that three sons were enough for any mother to contribute to the war.
Captain Miller and his squad found Ryan with remnants of the 506, Baker Company, which had orders to secure a bridge on the far side of a river. The company had been ordered to hold the bridge at all costs-or, as a final defense, to blow it up. When Captain Miller and his squad arrived to take Ryan home, Ryan refused to leave. Miller asked him what he was supposed to say to Ryan's mother when she got another folded American flag. Ryan replied, "You can tell her that when you found me, I was with the only brothers I had left. And that there was no way I was deserting them. I think she'd understand that."
Captain Miller and his squad told Ryan angrily that they had already lost two men in the search to find him. Miller finally decided that they'd make Ryan's battle their own as well and save him in the process.
The Germans soon came at them-nearly a full company of men, two Panzer tanks, two Tigers. The Americans lured the Panzers down the village's main street, where they staged an effective ambush. The only thing Ryan had been allowed to do was pitch mortar shells like hand grenades. Captain Miller never let Ryan leave his side, protecting the private every step of the way.
Still, one tank blew their sharpshooter to eternity. Another soldier died in hand-to-hand combat with a knife to his heart. No matter their ingenuity, the squad couldn't hold off such an overpowering force, and the men made a strategic retreat to the other side of the bridge. In the retreat one of the sergeants was hit and collapsed.
Captain Miller took a shot beneath his ribs as he struggled to fix the wiring on a detonation device. Then an artillery blast knocked him nearly unconscious. All hope lost, Captain Miller began shooting at a tank coming straight at him.
Suddenly, Tankbuster aircraft shrieked down on them, blowing the enemy's tanks to smithereens and routing their foot soldiers. The Allies' own armored reinforcements rolled up minutes later.
Of the squad that had come to save Ryan, only two men escaped relatively unscathed. The others were dead or dying.
Captain Miller lay close by where he had been hit, his back slumped against the bridge's wall. Ryan, in anguish, was alone with his rescuer in the final moments before Miller died. Ryan watched as the captain struggled in his last moments, shot clean through one lung. The captain wouldn't take another breath, except to grunt, "James. Earn this ... earn it."
Were these dying words a final order or charge?
Private Ryan has always taken it that way.
These memories rivet the aged James Ryan, who now finds himself staring at the grave marker and mumbling to his dead commander. He tells Captain Miller that his family is with him. He confesses that he wasn't sure how he would feel about coming to the cemetery today. He wants Captain Miller to know that every day of his life he's thought of their conversation at the bridge, of Miller's dying words. Ryan has tried to live a good life, and he hopes he has. At least in the captain's eyes, he hopes he's "earned it," that his life has been worthy of the sacrifice Captain Miller and the other men made of giving their lives for his.
As Ryan mutters these thoughts, he cannot help wondering how any life, however well lived, could be worthy of his friends' sacrifice. The old man stands up, but he doesn't feel released. The question remains unanswered.
His wife comes to his side again. He looks at her and pleads, "Tell me I've led a good life."
Confused by his request, she responds with a question: "What?"
He has to know the answer. He tries to articulate it again: "Tell me I'm a good man."
The request flusters her, but his earnestness makes her think better of putting it off. With great dignity, she says, "You are."
His wife turns back to the other family members, whose stirring says they are ready to leave.
Before James Ryan joins them, he comes to attention and salutes his fallen comrade. What a gallant old soldier he is.
* * *
Who of us can see this scene from Steven Spielberg's magnificent film Saving Private Ryan and not ask ourselves the same question: Have I lived a good life?
Does there exist an exact way of calculating the answer to this question? How do we define living a good life? What makes the good we do good enough? Is our life worthy of the sacrifice of others? The unavoidable question of whether we have lived a good life searches our hearts.
Not everyone experiences what Ryan did in such a dramatic way. Yet this question of the good life-and others like it-haunts every human being from the earliest years of our consciousness. Something stirs us at the very core of our being, demanding answers to so many questions: Is there some purpose in life? Are we alone in this universe, or does some force-call it fate, destiny, or providence-guide our lives?
These questions don't often occur to us so neatly of course. Usually the hardest questions hit us at the hardest times. In the midst of tragedy or serious illness, when confronting violence and injustice, or after seeing our personal hopes shattered, we cry out, "Why is the world such a mess? Is there anything I can do about it?"
There's a mystery at work in these perennial questions of human existence. I doubt anyone who has ever seen Saving Private Ryan or read great works of literature like Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov or Camus's The Plague has ever doubted the relevance of such questions. Neither does anyone who has ever marveled at the beauty of the Milky Way or sat weeping at the bedside of a dying loved one.
What distinguishes humans from all other creatures is our self-consciousness: We know we are alive and that we will die, and we cannot keep from asking ourselves questions about why life is the way it is and what it all means.
And isn't it odd that we all understand immediately why Private Ryan would feel compelled to live an honorable life? Does he believe that in doing so he can make his comrades' sacrifice worthwhile? Evidently, he does, and we sense the rightness of this. But why does he feel in their debt? Why does he feel that their actions have to be recompensed by his own, as if blind justice with a sword in one hand and balancing scales in the other really existed? And why should goodness be the means of repaying this debt? Why not revenge? Why should he not set about killing as many former Nazis as possible? Somehow that does not satisfy, though. If sacrifice can be repaid at all, it can be done only by sacrifice, not by slaughter. We know this. But why do we know this?
A broad answer lies in our humanity. Because we are human, we ask questions about meaning and purpose. We have an innate sense of justice and our own need to meet the demands of justice. Moral attitudes differ from culture to culture, but take people from a Stone Age culture in a remote village in Papua New Guinea, sit them down in front of Saving Private Ryan, and they will immediately understand the issues involved. They will understand Ryan's questions and his sense of gratitude.
The word should in the questions that arise from Private Ryan's life immediately grounds us in ethical considerations. It implies there must be a variety of answers to these questions. It suggests that some answers are better than others-some are right while others are wrong. So, where does this should come from? What does it mean that we possess an innate sense of these things?
At the very least it points to the notion that we all live in a moral universe, which is one of the reasons human beings, regardless of background or economics or place of birth, are irresistibly religious. If nothing else, we know there is someone or something to which we owe a debt for our existence.
Our questions also presume that we can choose our answers to these questions and act on these choices. The freedom of the human will, even if circumscribed, is built into the way the human mind works.
Commenting on life's questions, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, said, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." Kennedy asserted that beliefs about these matters define the attributes of personhood. We are who we are, we are the type of creatures we are, because we are obliged to come to our own conclusions about the great questions. Although I disagree profoundly with the legal conclusion Justice Kennedy drew from this observation, I must admit his summary captures what makes us human.
I can remember when I first began asking questions early in life. I have particularly vivid memories of the Sunday morning in December 1941 when our family was riveted to the radio, listening with growing anxiety to the reports of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. I was certain we'd be fighting Japanese soldiers or German SS officers in the streets of our sleepy Boston suburb. I remember asking my father, "Why does there have to be war and bloodshed and death?" He replied-mistakenly, as I now think-that it was all part of the natural process, like famines and plagues that prevented overpopulation.
During the war, I organized fund-raising campaigns in my school, even auctioned off my treasured model airplane collection to raise funds for the war effort. Instinctively I knew I was meant to do my part to protect our freedoms. I wanted my life-even at age twelve-to matter.
I also remember standing in our yard many nights, the world around me in darkness, blackout shades covering every window in the neighborhood, protecting us against the expected air raids.
Excerpted from the GOOD LIFE by CHARLES COLSON HAROLD FICKETT Copyright © 2005 by Charles Colson. Excerpted by permission.
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As an avid reader, I am compelled to express that 'The Good Life' has endorsed some of my expressed feelings on issues of life and while I am still reading the text has challenged me to understand that my life begins and ends with God. I have no say in the matter, all I need to do is to follow where God leads. The paradox, 'What we strive for can often be what we least need What we fear most can turn out to be our greatest blessing' are words that I needed for this moment. God bless these authors. This show what lives committed to God can accomplish.
Thirty five years ago a White House cover-up shook the nation. In the midst of the national controversy were the individual lives that would never be the same. One of those lives is that of Charles Colson. After serving time in prison for releasing confidential FBI information, Colson underwent a transformation, a conversion. He told about his conversion in his popular book Born Again. More than three decades later he's telling his story again, but from a more developed perspective, in his recent book, The Good Life. The premise of The Good Life is that a good life can be found in serving others and serving them in truth and not wasting your life satisfying just your own selfish desires. Do not serve others just to promote your own self-interest. Instead, we are challenged to serve others because of who Jesus Christ is and what He did for us on the cross at Calvary. The Good Life isn't completely about Charles Colson. In fact, his is just one of many stories the authors share to explore the issues of purpose, meaning, and truth in this life. Reflections are offered on men who "had it all," such as L. Dennis Kozlowski (former CEO of Tyco International), as well as people who endured devastating pain and suffering, such as Nien Cheng (a women who suffered under Communist rule in China). Some of the important points, but not all, covered in the book include: 1. We acknowledge the evil to embrace the good. 2. When people are too idle, they lack purpose. We were wired to have a purpose in life. 3. Our own personal happiness must never be the ultimate goal in our lives. 4. Living independent of others is unhealthy - we are meant for community. 5. Integrity is more important than loyalty. Get that wrong and your world collapses. Highly recommend book to read, enjoy, and be challenged to make the most of the rest of your life for God's glory. Received e-book for my nook for a review.
I highly recommend this book by Charles (Chuck) Colson. His story of redemption and finding the true Good Life in doing for others is exemplary. Chuck has interesting stories and real events from his life and those of people he has met that reveal how to have a Good Life yourself. You will be entertained and satisfied by reading this book.
Thought provoking...good author.
Chuck Colson says it better in the book than I can in review. Life is Good! and Chuck explains how to live well.
Chuck Colson has written a thought provoking book with contrasting famous real life stories of different approaches to life and the consequences of these different approaches. Life choices have consequences that we all need to think through. For example, what are the consequences of whether there is truth or not, particularly since most people believe there is no absolute truth? Is happiness all we should aim for in life? How can a life be signicant? Well worth the read!
It takes a courageous man to make bold, unflinching statements about such culturally vague and unpopular topics as the purpose of human life, the value of life, the fact of 'absolute' truth and what that truth is, the fact of an intended order to the universe and human existence as established by a loving creator and the consequences of violating that order, the way that people should relate to each other, and what things are truly important in life. But Charles Colson is a courageous man and 'The Good Life' is a courageous work, full of engaging stories! Colson's writing in this great book is warm, honest, transparent, occassionaly melancholy, but always brilliant. 'The Good Life' is an important and potentially life changing read for Christians and non-Christians alike. The book is very much a 'thinking man's' Purpose Driven Life. An absolute must read!!
The Good Life is one of the best books I have read for all seekers of truth and the meaning of life. One realizes after reading The Good Life that striving for wealth, power and fame will not satisfy for very long. Rather our discovery of truth and the desire for serving others in need really bring us closer to enjoying the ultimate good life. As we get older we all begin to consider at some point the question, 'Have I lived a life that is honorable and worthy -- have I lived a life that one can call good?' This book is an easier read than Colson's How Now Shall We Live and is full of wonderful story telling. One is challenged along the way to consider the claims of Christ through natural law arguments without being beaten over the head with Scripture. It truely is a great book to give your neighbor or friend who is seeking. I encourage you to buy this today, read it and pass it on.
STARCLAN SAID NO! I NEVER KILLED A CAT IN MY LIFE I WAS GOING TO B A MED CAT! *CRYS* MOSSPAW