A young friend of mine and I frequently shoot our air rifles together and have learned to improve the accuracy of our shooting by practicing the basic skills of proper sight picture and breathing technique and trigger squeeze. We also practice good gun etiquette. When his mother gave him his first rifle firing powder ammunition, he was anxious to learn how it operated and to adjust its sights properly. We drove out to the Knappa Gun Club, but just as we arrived I realized I had forgotten my new paper-targets.
We spent the morning learning the various parts of his new rifle and he learned how to fire it, but he was never able to adjust the sights on it. We shot our rifles at used targets left by previous shooters, but they had so many holes in them it was hard to determine where we were hitting the targets. It was fun to "plink" at used water bottles and Coke cans, but we made little progress in discovering where we were off and what needed to be done to correct what was wrong.
I remembered reading Homer's "Odyssey," where Odysseus was engaged in some target shooting of his own. Of course, he was using a javelin and was throwing at a target mounted on a post some distance away. The bull's-eye was called a "telos," and he was asking his favorite goddess - gray-eyed Athena - to direct his spear to hit the very middle of the telos. The Greeks incorporated such marksmanship into their terminology when they used "hamartia" to express the idea of missing the telos, or the mark.
In later years, Greek-speaking Christians adopted the terminology to convey their own sense of what "sin" was like for them. Sin had become an expression for doing something wrong by society's standards and the early church probably adopted quite soon a whole catalog of behaviors which it considered to be inappropriate. As the church's beliefs became more inclusive and complex, leaders in the church had to refine the standards upon which right and wrong were decided.
The Apostle Paul hit upon such standards in his letters to the young churches. Paul had spent much of his lifetime trying to attain the standards of behavior defined by the Jewish law, but he always found himself coming up short. When he quite unexpectedly became converted to Christianity on his way to the town of Damascus one day, his standards of behavior were changed radically. Paul claimed he encountered the living Christ on that road to Damascus, and that Christ had become the most important thing in his life.
Paul was struck by the fact that Christ loved him even though Paul's behavior did not earn him that love. Paul began to think of his telos, or bull's-eye, more in terms of who made him complete and who fulfilled his lifelong pursuit for perfection, rather than just what Paul did. With Christ's guidance, Paul felt he was able to do what was right in most situations. Paul also looked to the Greek games as an example of what he meant, but he favored the foot-race over the javelin-throw. He expresses it this way in his letter to the Philippian church:
"I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize. My friends, I don't feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done. All of us who are mature should think in this same way. And if any of you think differently, God will make it clear to you. But we must keep going in the direction that we are now headed" (3:12-16 CEV).
Next time I go out to the gun club, I'll remember to take my supply of new targets.
Doug Rich is the pastor of Pioneer Presbyterian Church in Clatsop Plains in Warrenton.