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. Maybe 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 for 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 a snapping finger that has all the effect of a cracking whip. So, after all his futile efforts to escape have been foiled (from disguising himself as a laundry bag for the cleaners to truck away, to his climbing out a second-story window and down a nearby painter’s ladder), and in spite of his pleas for mercy directed at the sheriff, he eventually “does his time”. Then, all cleaned up and looking sharp, he vows never to touch another drop of liquor. Later he is repeatedly referred to as having been reformed. At the end of the episode, four other prisoners who have been recaptured are transported to “the Rock” (since the deputy’s efforts to reform them only result in their escaping from jail). Once they realized where they are, one cries out, “Oh, no! We heard about this place! It’s the Rock!” and the four of them try to scramble over the sheriff and deputy back into the police car. And when Aunt Bea herself materializes, holding brooms, mops, and buckets, one of the big, burly men points at her and yells to his brothers, “Bloody Mary!” just as they are all shoved under her ruthless reign by the sheriff and deputy.
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. Ah, yes. Maybe I enjoy it all the more because Aunt Bea reminds me a lot of my sweet and unassuming grandmother before she went to be with the Lord.
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.
But since this episode was produced and aired in the show’s second season, folks who watched the show know that Otis did not stay “reformed” for very long, no matter what oath he had made. He was back to the booze in short order and remained in the less than honorable position of “town drunk” until a reunion movie was made many years later.
I’ve know 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, and societal pressures 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. That’s true of you and me. You and I can’t be the people God wants us to be unless we let Him transform us. And He can’t transform us unless we let Him into our hearts. We need for more than our appearances to change. Our desires have to change; our values have to change; and our choices have to change. And it takes a something more than resolve and good intentions on our part. The source of strength on which we depend must shift from self-reliance to dependence on God’s strength (which He offers us by His Holy Spirit through His Word, prayer, authentic worship, and the loving support of other Christian men and women who understand our struggles and lift us up with love).
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 conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV).