I’m not a “die-hard” Andy Griffith Show fan, but I sometimes have the opportunity to sit down with my family and enjoy a hilarious episode with them.
Perhaps my all-time favorite episode is the one entitled, “Aunt Bea, the Warden” where she is haplessly made the caretaker of Otis, the town drunk, who can’t “sleep off” his stupor in the jailhouse as he normally does. Not the least inclined to coddle him as the sheriff and deputy are in the habit of doing, she promptly initiates her prisoner into “the Rock” (as he later “affectionately” refers to it) with a good dousing of cold water and a healthy dose of good ol’ hard work.
However, Otis, not accustomed to a sentence of “hard labor,” groans and moans his way through the day. And in between his grass cutting, window washing, hall vacuuming, dish washing, and floor scrubbing, he makes several less than heroic efforts at “breaking out”
But always watching over him is the ever vigilant eye of Aunt Bea. Just as soon as he slips his shoes off so he can sneak out, she’s right after him with snapping finger that have all the effect of a cracking whip.
And what a logical and perfectly sensible solution to the crime wave besetting little Mayberry … turn the hardened criminals over to one who knows how to whip them into shape.
As far as Otis goes, the whole idea of reforming a man gone bad, of course, is not a new one. It defines society’s general attitude towards handling men and women convicted of crimes and has at its heart, for its greatest proponents, a core of mercy.
I’ve known men and women with substance addictions and can attest to the terrible chains that alcohol and drugs have produced for them. The addictions themselves aside, consequences to being under the influence, terrible decisions, and tremendous lapses of moral fortitude destroy families, marriages, careers, and even lives in only moments. The addictions also create such a bondage that men and women who would have been horrified by the very idea, have fallen to such an extent that every sentence from their lips is a lie and stealing becomes so natural and subconsciously driven that they’re not even aware that they are doing it.
But this column isn’t really about alcohol or other substance abuse. It’s about all of us and our struggle against sin. Spiritually speaking, we’re all waging a war, caught between impulses that can overwhelmingly and unexpectedly surge within us (urging us to hate and hurt, maim or kill those who represent to us racism and classism’s abuses of power) and those societal pressures for us to conform (to “fall into line” and do what we’re told).
Although we each are created in the image of God, our nature has been corrupted by our cumulative rejection of God’s love and authority over us. Our nature, although designed perfectly by a perfect Designer, has gone out of control and seeks to elevate its own interests above relationship with God and even our own long-term future. Humanity has an incredible addiction to selfishness and pride. And it takes more than mere reformation for us to break free of it. You or I may look at social problems, diagnose them in other people (sometimes even correctly), and yet miss the fact that we ourselves are each liars at heart (if not overtly, we’re great at spinning the truth to our own benefit), thieves by nature (“Well, the mistake was the cashier’s, not mine”), and murderers in the hidden chambers of our thoughts (“I hate him for what he’s done to me. I wish he were dead”).
Maybe you disagree with my logic, but I’ve no doubt that if you were to honestly lay out all the thoughts you’ve ever had on a table, you’d be as red as a tomato. But the point isn’t that God stands over us like some monstrous Aunt Bea with flaming red eyes and a huge rolling pin poised to whack us on the head, or even snapping His fingers at us, and demanding more blood, sweat, and tears. The point isn’t even that God is telling you to pull yourself up by your boot straps and reform yourself. “Now promise you’ll be a good boy, Otis, and run along.”
The point simply is that what you and I need isn’t “reformation”; it’s “transformation.” You can mold something externally and maybe make it resemble something else (or break it in trying to do it). But to really change something into something else, you’ve got to get inside it and effect change from its heart.
Reformation, even when it appears to work, doesn’t really work. The transformation that comes from placing our faith in Jesus alone as savior and His exerting His lordship in our hearts is the only solution for setting us free from the bondage of our own sinful natures. You might be inclined to settle for a watch-dog to help you get in shape. Or you might be resigned to tolerating character flaws and spiritual needs within yourself. I hope not though. Jesus has made a way for you and me to break free and start clean with Him. After He’s invested so much so that we can be free, why try to do it on our own?
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV).
Pastor Thom Mollohan leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.