Originally posted August 8, 2011, at A Front View Pew. Republished with permission of the author.
It’s probably sacrilegious to say around these parts, but I’m just not a big fan of the State Fair. I can almost hear the collective gasp, but the butter cow and whatever-on-a-stick don’t trip my trigger, so to speak.
But Opie Taylor sure thought he had a good reason to go the fair. In one of my favorite episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show,” Opie is on a mission to win a gift for his father.
The boy is pretty confident in his marksmanship, so he figures his best chance of success is at the shooting gallery. Yet, again and again he raises the rifle to his shoulder, takes careful aim but still misses the target.
What Opie doesn’t realize is the game has been rigged.
The rifle he has been given has a bent sight. No matter how straight he tries to shoot, he is not going to win the shiny electric razor that he thinks will make his dad happy.
After spending most of his allowance, he walks away shaking his head. Defeated, he says, “I can’t win.”
Paul and Opie
You can almost hear the same frustration in Paul’s voice, when he writes:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (Romans 7:15, 18-19).
When I was Opie’s age, it seemed to me that God worked pretty much like that dishonest carnie.
By the time I was in my teens, I had reached the conclusion that no matter how hard I would try, I could never be good enough.
Sure, confessing sins (wait — did I remember them all?) to that voice behind the screen in that dark little room would get me a little closer to a spot in heaven, but it was just a tease, like those enormous stuffed animals at the fair.
As soon as I walked outside those church doors into the world, sin would be waiting for me, and God would be watching. It made me wonder why anyone would keep playing such a ridiculous game if there was no way to win.
Unfortunately, many of us carry at least some version of this shooting gallery theology with us into adulthood.
We still want to believe that if we’ll just shoot correctly, we’ll receive the reward we deserve. But there is always a problem.
As sincerely and as faithfully as we try to hit the mark, we are still shooting with a faulty gun. Our good works are influenced by selfish desires and so we are going to miss. We are unable to keep our focus from turning inward. Even if it’s only a little, the result is off.
In our confession we say, “We confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.”
No matter how well we shoot, no matter how much we’ve practiced, no matter how bad the other shooters are, no matter which gun club we choose to be affiliated with, we are not going to win this game on our own.
Christ has already won
But wait! There is more to the story. The good news is we don’t need to play that game. Christ has already won the battle over sin, death and the devil. As the only one without sin, he was able to accomplish what no one else could, what we never can. And he has already done it for us. It’s a gift, not a game.
Let’s go back to the shooting gallery, where Opie’s father (Sheriff Andy Taylor) has caught wind of the shady goings-on.
It takes him no time at all to figure out the rifle’s flaw. Compensating for the bent sight by aiming slightly to the right, Andy proceeds to win everything off the shelves, much to the chagrin of the crooked carnies.
When Opie returns to try again, things have changed. Because this time he receives the “good” rifle, his shooting improves dramatically and he is successful in winning the razor.
It’s all about grace
It’s such a great story! What makes it even better, though, is the fact that Opie never asked his father to intervene on his behalf. In fact, he wasn’t even aware that it took place.
This is the amazing grace that we sing about.
I think what Paul describes here is how we are released from playing that fruitless game.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:1-3).
Maybe I will go to the fair after all. You never know; I might just win something.
Find a link to Anita Nuetzman’s blog A Front Pew View at Lutheran Blogs.