How Columbo Made Me Worship

We sat in our pajamas on the couch under a blanket and did what you do on Sunday nights. We watched a rerun of Columbo. In that night’s episode, we looked on in horror as Columbo’s nephew’s bride Melissa was kidnapped just hours after her wedding. But that’s when Uncle Columbo went right to work. He and his nephew Andy, the distraught groom, who was also L.A.P.D., didn’t sleep a wink all night.

Several times the scene cut to Melissa, and slowly details concerning her kidnapper emerged. (From here on out spoilers loom at every paragraph. Consider yourself warned.) It turned out the kidnapper had been obsessed with Melissa for a long time. He even had pictures of her in a slide projector. (Cut them some slack; the episode was from 1992.) Although Columbo initially suspected the kidnapper would demand a ransom from Melissa’s rich father, the kidnapper’s motivation for taking her actually turned out to be based in the fact that his father cut his mother’s throat with a surgical knife, and when he, just a boy at the time, walked into the room and saw his mother covered in blood, his father turned the knife on himself, cutting his own throat, as his son watched.

At some point, the kidnapper had gotten it into his mind that his fate was to imitate his parents’ fate, so, according to his logic, he needed to marry someone and then murder his wife by slitter her throat right before killing himself with the same knife. Melissa was his choice for bride and murder victim. The kidnapper even had a tux for himself and a full wedding dress for Melissa in his house. He put himself in charge of performing the ceremony. After that, he planned to kill her.

The surgical knife played a recurring role throughout the show. It was in the kidnapper’s hand when he first took Melissa the day of the wedding, and it remained his way of forcing Melissa, whom he constantly referred to as “my Love,” to do whatever he wanted. He would ask her to do something in this soft, sickeningly affectionate voice, and then when she hesitated or flat out refused, he’d raise the knife in front of her face. Made me want to throw up a little.

The kidnapper’s hours were numbered as soon as Columbo was able to ascertain the kidnapper’s identity from pictures taken at the wedding. He was even able to blow one of the photographs up and read the engraving on the kidnapper’s college ring. That led to a frantic scouring of old yearbooks at the man’s university which resulted in a name which led them to an address.

With sirens blaring, Laura and I watched as Columbo, Andy, and seemingly half the L.A.P.D. raced to the address just in time to storm in and blow the kidnapper away right before he hurt Melissa. Columbo had done it again. And this time, no one except the kidnapper got killed.

I won’t lie to you. The entire episode was a little strange. And unsettling. And I wouldn’t exactly call it my favorite Columbo episode ever. However, even here, tucked away in the story of the kidnapping of Lieutenant Columbo’s nephew’s bride, there are aspects of reality to be seen and experienced. There are themes to be considered. There are insights into the way things really are to be considered and felt. Thus this post at The Untamed Places.

What caught my attention more than anything else was the warning to be found in the kidnapper’s definition of love, a definition so faulty that he had the audacity to consistently call Melissa “my Love” while holding a surgical knife in front of her face to force her to do whatever he wanted. According to his definition of love, Melissa existed for his sake. She was an object to be used for his own ends. And he dared call his feelings for her love. And if that weren’t enough, he also dared hope that acting in such a way would eventually win Melissa over, that she would actually come to love him, and he felt genuinely sad when she refused what he considered such an irresistible offer. It was clear he was sick in just about every way imaginable. And to make sure not a viewer forgot it, no matter how sweetly he spoke, he never set down his knife.

Throughout the entire episode, it was as obvious as the music they inserted behind the action and dialogue that the kidnapper was mentally insane. Watching the kidnapper slither in close to Melissa and attempt to force her love with sweet words all the while wielding that knife made me think of another kidnapper whose wiles are much more subtle. The reality is the same. This other kidnapper is just more discreet. It was easy for us on the couch to see the lunacy of the kidnapper in Columbo and how obviously impossible it was for Melissa to ever give in, at least willingly, yet the voice of this other kidnapper I’m thinking of just might be sweet enough to actually cause us to consider his offer if we ever find ourselves in his grasp.

Who is this other kidnapper? His name is sin. His father is the devil. His end is the eternal fires of hell. And his voice is as sweet as an angel.

Oh, and he, too, carries a knife.

He speaks our name softly and calls us “my Love,” all the while appealing to us under the threat of death. He doesn’t care about us in the slightest. His only love is to feed his own lusts. The only question is whether or not we have eyes to see and ears to hear the lie as clearly as Laura and I did while watching Lieutenant Columbo search for Melissa’s kidnapper. Our love affair with this monster is as incomprehensible as would have been Melissa’s actually falling in love with this monster of a man who stole her from her rightful husband. Oh, may we see sin’s blade and be freed from his seductive voice.

How? Melissa never forgot the voice of her Andy. She knew her kidnapper’s offer paled in comparison to him. We, too, must remember another voice, for there is another voice, one so much sweeter than even sin’s, one that is selfless, sacrificial, and unending, one full of genuine love. It impossible to fake such love, for no one will willingly sacrifice his own wellbeing for the sake of another where there is no true love. Of course, I’m talking about the great Lover of our souls, the one who doesn’t kidnap us and force us to do what he wants under threat of a slit throat, the one who doesn’t turn us into objects to be used to meet his needs.

This is why I follow Jesus the Christ. Mere men turn other people into objects to meet their own needs. Only this man willingly stretched out his arms over a Roman cross so that he could be shamed and slandered and hung naked like a hunk of meat for the very sake of the ones driving the nails. And for my sake. And for yours.

We all recognize such wondrous love when we see it, and we do so as easily as we recognize the antithesis of love as demonstrated by Melissa’s kidnapper. I follow Jesus because I’ve found in him the deepest and fullest expression of divine love anywhere in the universe, and I refuse to drink from any lesser source again. What does sin have to offer me in light of the Savior? What did Melissa’s kidnapper have to offer her in light of the love of Andy her husband? And so I run back to Jesus over and over. Please, tell me, where else would I go?

And that’s how Columbo made this heart worship. That’s the power of a story, even one as unremarkable as this one. May we all have eyes to see the depths of reality to be experienced lurking in the stories all around us. And when appropriate, may they cause us to worship.

What stories have helped you see certain truths about the world around you more deeply? I’d love to hear. Let me know in the comments section below.

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