I grew up watching TV---Robin Hood, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Sky King, Superman, to name a few, and tons of westerns: Roy Rogers, Hop-a-long Cassidy, Maverick, Cheyenne, Gunsmoke, Have Gun-Will Travel, The Rifleman, and my favorite, The Lone Ranger. I think I was twelve years old before I met any three-dimensional people. In my TV world, I knew that if I fell in a well, there would always be a collie nearby to summon help; if bad guys robbed my wagon train and left me hog-tied, a masked stranger and his trusty Indian companion would come along and make things right; and if I ate all the cream-filled chocolate eggs I was supposed to sell for school, my older brother Wally would somehow get me out of the jam, and ask Mom and Dad to not be too hard on me, because I was just a goofy kid.
In those days, TV watching was a family affair. We would gather on Sunday nights, for example, and watch Walt Disney and Ed Sullivan’s “really big show” and whatever else happened to be on that season. Mom and Dad would usually be on the sofa with one or two kids, and the rest of us would be prone on the carpet, radiating from the TV with our heads on our hands, or on pillows. I think it was Disney who pressured us to buy our first color TV when he started broadcasting The Wonderful World of Color, or The Wonderful World of Disney, or The Wonderful World of Disney in Color. It was broadcast “in living color,” as opposed to what we were seeing on our old TV, (presumably) “dead black and white.” At the beginning and end of the show, Tinkerbell would make splotches of color come out of her fairy wand, but those splotches were rather bland in black and white.
So when I was about thirteen there was a major event in our home; our first color TV was delivered. In fact, it was much more than a TV, it was a called a console, a beautiful piece of furniture, maybe five feet long and three feet high, made of maple as I recall, containing a Zenith TV, a radio, and a stereo phonograph player (our younger readers will be interested to learn that phonographs, commonly called records, were vinyl disks that would play music when rotated under just the right conditions). The TV was behind little doors that could be closed, but almost never were, because if they were closed, we couldn’t see the magic screen.
One Saturday afternoon my rather mundane real world intersected with my exciting TV world. I was watching a cowboy show, and I decided to participate in the adventure. When an outlaw appeared on our new Zenith color console, attempting to get away with the money from the Wells Fargo stagecoach, money which was earmarked to build an orphanage for poor children without a mom or dad or color TV, and money which (perhaps I perceived on some level) Wells Fargo would one day need to have on hand to provide me with a mortgage, I decided to do something about it. I happened to have, in my hand, a BB pistol that was not loaded; I knew it wasn’t loaded because I shook it and it made no noise. A loaded BB gun makes a noise, when you shake it, that sounds a lot like BBs rattling around inside a shaken BB gun. However, as I discovered that day, this is not the case if the gun contains only one BB, and it is already snug in the gun's chamber, ready to be propelled toward a new color television. So with my empty BB pistol, I took careful aim at the outlaw from across the room and pulled the trigger.
Life has its share of strange coincidences. The very moment I squeezed the trigger of the empty BB pistol, to my horror, a black dot appeared on the screen of our new Zenith color console. With fear and trembling I approached to investigate. Sure enough, there was a hole, about the size of a BB, in the layer of glass that was put over the tube at the factory to protect it from stupid kids with empty BB pistols (I suspect, however, that they assumed these kids would be age six to nine). Extending from the hole in every direction were the tiniest fractures. From a distance, it looked like there was a black smudge on the new screen about the size of a pea, which, oddly enough, as I look back on the incident now, must have been the exact size of my brain at the time. The fact that there was no BB in sight allowed me for a moment to desperately cling to the coincidence theory. Maybe the very second I pulled the trigger of the empty BB pistol, a latent factory defect happened to result in a BB-sized hole appearing on the screen in the very spot at which I was aiming. The problem was, by that point in my life, the principle of cause and effect had become fairly well ingrained in me, and even without the telltale BB, it was pretty clear that I had permanently damaged our family’s pride and joy. I was going to incur my dad’s wrath, and worse, I had let down my entire family, not to mention Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, the entire Swiss Family Robinson, and Walt Disney himself.
I think that day, my longest day, may have been the only one the little doors on the console were ever closed. I thought it might buy me some time. Some of you may be curious to know what happened when the hole was discovered; you probably imagine I got the punishment I richly deserved. As far as I can recall, I did not. I must have made myself scarce that evening, because I don’t remember being present when the proverbial soup hit the fan. I suppose I followed my time-honored procedure for royal screw ups: avoid the scene of the crime and feign ignorance until the storm blows over. The fact that the “bullet hole” was in the corner of the screen may have helped save my hide, along with the fact that by that point my parents had resigned themselves to never having anything nice (see “Field of Nightmares”). Furthermore, they knew I was, as Wally Cleaver would have put it, just a goofy kid, and that damaging our new color TV hurt me, one of the prime viewers, more than it did them.
I had violated the second commandment that every BB gun recipient has engraved upon his goofy kid brain: “Thou shalt not shoot thy BB gun in the house.” Commandment one, of course is, “Thou shalt not point thy BB gun at any human.” Commandment three is: “Commandment two applies even to little brothers.” I’m pretty sure there is no commandment about shooting your new color TV console, because parents would assume that no child of theirs would ever do that, even if he was assured the gun was empty. But my parents showed me mercy.
My Creator has done the same, on a much larger scale, where the consequences of my behavior were much more serious. I have violated, in some way, each of His commandments, His moral laws. The Lord Jesus made it clear that the commandments are deeper and broader than they appear at first glance. To be angry with your brother without due cause, is a form of murder. To lust after a woman is a form of adultery. The first time I violated God’s holy law, probably by dishonoring (by disobeying) my parents, I not only revealed my inherent sinful nature, I committed a sinful act, and I was no longer fit for heaven. God’s Word says
“Whoever shall keep the whole law, yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” [James 2:10}
One does not need to break every law of a society to be a lawbreaker, and one does not need to break each commandment of God to be a commandment breaker. That I had sinned against my Maker was as clear as the BB hole in our TV screen. My only hope was God’s mercy. In His wonderful plan, He provided a perfect sacrifice for me, in the person of His own dear son. By keeping His father’s laws, not only in His actions, but in His speech and His thoughts, not for a day or a week, but for his lifetime, Jesus fulfilled God’s righteous requirements, keeping the law that I broke. Then He went to the cross, where He was treated as a sinner, and endured the wrath of a holy God that He did not deserve.
I could not undo the damage to our TV by promising to never shoot it again, and I could not undo the damage my sin has caused by promising to never sin again (a promise that no mere man could ever keep). What I needed was mercy. What I needed was God’s unmerited favor, what the Bible calls grace. And that is exactly what I (and innumerable others) have received. God the Father has accepted the righteousness of Christ in lieu of my righteousness, while the Lord Jesus, the sinless one, permitted my sins to be placed on His account. As God treated Jesus as a sinner at the cross (although He was in fact righteous) even so He treats me as righteous because of the cross (although I am, in fact, unrighteous). As Martin Luther put it, I am simul justus et peccator, at the same time righteous and sinner. In and of myself, I'm a sinner, but in Christ, I'm righteous. That is, I'm viewed as righteous by virtue of Christ's righteousness applied to me.
Just as my TV world and my real world intersected that Saturday so long ago, even so the time came some years later when the material world I can see intersected the spiritual world that I can’t see. The once goofy kid, who had become a goofy adult, recognized himself, by God’s grace, to be a sinner deserving God’s wrath. He repented of his sins and transferred his trust to Jesus alone, and since then, he’s been dwelling in “The Wonderful World of Forgiveness.” It’s in “living color,” and it’s completely BB-proof.