An Andy Griffith Warning

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I love The Andy Griffith show. I think it’s a very worthwhile television show. I think your life would be better if you watched an hour of it tonight instead of an hour of Scandal or Grey’s Anatomy (just an opinion). But that being said, I have noticed some unhealthy things within my fondness for the show, and since I think I’m probably not alone in carrying those germs, I thought I’d share them. You do not have to have ever even seen a single episode of The Andy Griffith Show to have some of these same, subtle lies floating around your brain and through your heart. I believe they’re pervasive. I think a pretty significant number of people like me (Americans with a spouse, family, and/or decent job who live, globally speaking, relatively safe lives) share them.

The first lie that I create or allow myself to believe is that there is some good, sweet, innocent time or place in recent human history that we might reclaim. There isn’t. Never has been. Ever since our human father rebelled and we rebelled in him, death and adultery and envy and murder and deceit have been ingrained in the human soul and body. There was never some sweet, southern town in the American 1950s where the biggest problem anyone had was a deputy sheriff who took his job too seriously.

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Every town since Adam has had men who commit adultery with their eyes and women who envy their neighbors and people who worship Baals and new cars instead of the living God. Every single town, every single house, every single heart since Adam’s sin has been infected by evil.

And when that feels like a blow to my gut (“But I want there to be a Mayberry!”), I should remember that that being true doesn’t rob me of hope; it frees me from a false hope. Creating Mayberry or Walton Mountain or a cute Disney world isn’t my (or my family’s, or my city’s) best hope. The best hope for every human and every marriage and every culture is the wrath-bearing, death-defeating, soon-returning Jesus of Nazareth.

Fictional nice guys who aren’t dead in their sins and trespasses, who can be corrected by 25 minutes of humor, 2 commercial breaks, and a wise speech at the end, may not need a Savior and His life-giving Holy Spirit. But no such men exist. Our real, breathing and beating world is populated with image bearers who hate the One whose image they bear. Men and women who love darkness and self-righteousness instead of the One true God. That is what our planet is truly filled with; not people with good heads on their shoulders who just need the right conditions and some solid character building. We need a Messiah, not simply a moral revolution. We need a Savior, and mercy upon mercy, we have been offered One.

But that second-to-last sentence is a nice first step into a description of another lie I often believe, and that is that I am not really all that bad. If the world is filled with Andy Griffiths and their good, “aw, shucks” natures on the one side and rowdy, rebellious no-goods on the other, I think I’m on the right side of the street. In my worst moments I think my own nature is upstanding enough.

That is a lie from the Devil.

Jesus told the story in Luke 18 of a wicked tax collector and a seemingly good, religious man praying near each other. The man who supposedly knew God and supposedly was good thanked God for making him so wonderful, and not like the gross, dirty little tax collector. The tax collector, meanwhile, asked God to have mercy on him for being a gross, dirty little tax collector.

One thought and said that he was a God-made good man, the other was broken about the fact that he was a treacherous, sinful man. One was devastatingly wrong while the other was acutely, life-savingly right.

And so one, according to Jesus, left unjustified,while the other left justified. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The man convinced he was good walked away unforgiven, not right with God. The other left with mercy, at peace with God through saving faith in Him.

Jesus described the same sort of humble, penitent heart at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

I cannot, absolutely, unequivocally cannot, be made right with God by my own good deeds, “Christian” life, moral choices, or even God-given compassionate actions. I must mourn my sinfulness, meekly and humbly repent, and be transformed into someone who thirsts for God.

I should do good things, yes. And He will empower me to do them. But they are never enough to make me justified before an impossibly holy God who cannot tolerate one atom of sin. I shouldn’t hope to emulate good men for salvation. I should remember that I’ve believed in the perfect Man for salvation. Being like Andy Griffith won’t make me right with God; being covered in the perfect, innocent blood of Jesus Christ will.

I was a dead and wicked man who was redeemed at a steep price, not a good man who merits God’s favor based on his own goodness.

The last lie that I feel myself believing when I’m basking in the glow of the sweet world of Mayberry (the only P.G. Wodehouse book I own suckers me in the same way) is that the world is a relatively safe place, and I won’t have to go through tremendous hardships.

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Since time and attention spans are short these days, my own as much as anybody else’s, I’ll get right to the point on this one: It is possible that I might be beheaded for Jesus Christ; I am not promised otherwise by Him.

The book of Revelation is a good place to get some perspective if you live, like I do, a life relatively untouched by violence, rampant hunger, or vindictive persecution. In its pages are substantive examples of the murder and outrageous persecution of God’s people, from the faithful Antipas of Pergamum (ch. 2) to those slain for Jesus crying out to Him (ch. 6) to the souls those who were beheaded for Jesus being resurrected (ch. 20). In my world, where it is actually somewhat possible to never encounter a gun or even a fistfight throughout an entire life, it’s difficult to remember that blood and bruises are very often a part of the normal Christian experience.

John the Baptist, Stephen (the first Christian martyr), the apostles James, Paul, Peter, and John, and the Christians today being killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria, ISIS in Iraq, or the oppressive government in North Korea would all remind me that this world is hostile to Jesus Christ and His people. We should pray for the lost, shine the light in the darkness, and preach faithfully to any and all who would give us an ear, but we should never fall into the trap of thinking this world, this age, can be an Eden before Christ comes. I am not promised a quiet existence of gardening and marital bliss: thanks to our sin in Adam, that ship has sailed.

Jesus will remake this universe beautifully and perfectly, but until then we fight principalities and powers by the Spirit. I can’t expect Mayberry. I should enjoy the blessings of earthly life but if I put my hope in them, if my hope is in my health and my wife and my money never being taken from me, it is a deceitful hope. The only treasure I can’t lose is also the only One that can satisfy: My Savior. In a post-Eden, pre-New Earth world, everything else is on the table. Everything else can be destroyed. And so I must pray for faithfulness, my daily needs, and His swift return.

There is no “going back” to the fictional Eden of Mayberry. And I am not a good guy like Andy. And this world is and will be a violent place until the King returns in all His peacemaking glory. So I’m still going to watch The Andy Griffith Show, because it’s a great and clean program. But I’m going to try to remember that it describes a world that never existed, and one whose sweetness doesn’t even begin to compare to what Jesus promises for those who love His appearing.

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