I’ve been re-reading the book, “The Body” by Chuck Colson. In the last chapter, entitled “Coram Deo” (face to face with God), Chuck tells the story of two men who became friends but whose lives could not have been more divergent. Rusty Woomer was a convicted murderer and rapist on death row whose crimes had shocked his community. Bob McAlister was a gifted communications expert who had developed a career in broadcasting which led him to the position of deputy chief of staff in the Statehouse of the Governor of South Carolina. Rusty was born into the family of an alcoholic father and an abused mother who were struggling in poverty. He soon discovered drugs and alcohol as a way of dulling his pain and found his way into juvenile court and later correctional centres for petty crime. In his mid twenties and drugged out, he went on a rampage of multiple murders and rape until cornered and captured by police in a seaside motel. Bob had been brought up in a middle class family where hard work, Little League baseball, fishing and Sunday worship were common place.
But if these men had led different lives, they had at least one thing in common: they both had an encounter with God. Bob’s meeting with God was not a grand theophany. He had already experienced one failed marriage due to overwork. His new wife challenged him to change and he returned to his spiritual roots; studying the Bible and seeking God’s purpose for his life. This led him to volunteer at a South Carolina penitentiary. One late Friday afternoon he was getting ready to go home when he decided to do one more visit. He walked up to one cell and was almost physically sick. There was a stench coming from the cell due to refuse and left over food. The inhabitant of the cell, Rusty Woomer stank too. He seemed to be in a trance as he lay there with cockroaches crawling over him. Bob prayed the name of Jesus over the cell and began to call out to Rusty, saying, “Rusty, call on Jesus! Just say the name of Jesus!” Nothing happened at first, then Rusty’s lips began to move, “Jesus,” he whispered. “Jesus!” Rusty seemed to come to his senses and a few seconds later, at Bob’s appeal, he turned his life over to the Lord. When Bob returned on Monday, he was greeted with the smell of disinfectant, a spotless cell and a smiling, peaceful, Rusty Woomer. How did a man so messed up become so transformed?
In Romans 10:13, Paul quotes the Prophet Joel in proclaiming, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Both Rusty and Bob called on His Name in different ways. But they both had a saving encounter with the Mercy of God: a self-absorbed professional became a preacher of the Good News; a convicted killer and rapist became a repentant lover of Jesus. How wonderful is the Mercy of God, so definitively expressed in the Blood of the Only Son of God shed for humanity!
Rusty’s story was bitter sweet; after many appeals he was sent to the electric chair. But before he died he said this: “I claim Jesus Christ as my Saviour. My only wish is that everyone in the world could feel the love I have felt from him.” Christmas is such a special time when we think of God sending His Only Son so that we would not perish but enjoy eternal life. Do you know the love of Jesus Christ? Have you experienced the Mercy of God? My prayer this Christmas is that you would turn from sin and accept the love of a merciful God.