Popeye and Spinach Theology

by: Larry Davies | Sep 12, 2015

I grew up watching, Popeye the Sailor Man cartoons. Each episode usually centered on someone, namely Brutus messing with Popeye’s girl, Olive Oyl. Popeye would take the harassment for a while but the bad stuff kept piling on and he would get madder and madder until, at some point Popeye would cry out: “That’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more!”

Like magic, a can of spinach appeared, the lid popped off and the green stuff consumed in one gulp, theme music blaring. Electric shocks pulsated through Popeye’s arms and legs until Hulk-like, his body swelled with bulging muscles. With supernatural strength flowing through his body, Popeye became a hero for good, vanquishing Brutus and his minions.

Popeye

The cartoon concluded with Popeye singing: “I’m strong to the finich, cause I eat me spinach. I’m Popeye the Sailor man!” Toot-toot!

One day, I begged mom to buy a can of spinach in order to imitate my hero. The trouble started when the lid refused to pop off like in the cartoon. So, after mom opened the can, I threw back my head and poured the spinach into my mouth… Ecch! To this very day, I hate canned spinach.

If only life could be more like the cartoon. Like Popeye, surrounded by overwhelming burdens, you may feel tempted to shout: “That’s all I can stands and I can’t stands no more!”

We can’t help ourselves sometimes imagining our relationship with God similar to a Popeye cartoon… sort of a “Spinach Theology.” We’ve withstood all the problems we can bear so in desperation we turn to God, open up our Bible and say the most famous prayer in history: “Help!”

Like magic the “spinach” power of God pulsates through our arms and legs until Hulk-like, our bodies swell with bulging spiritual muscles. With this supernatural power flowing through our body, we become heroes for good, vanquishing evil and all our woes. Then we celebrate and sing: “I’m strong to the finich, cause I eat me spinach. — I’m Larry the Christian man!” Toot-Toot!

There are certainly great examples of “Spinach” theology in the Bible:

• David and Goliath
• Moses and the Red Sea
• Elijah and the 700 Prophets
• Daniel in the Lion’s Den
• Jesus feeding the 5000

There is a name for each of these events: Miracles.

Miracles happen but not all the time, not even most of the time. So when someone with “Spinach Theology” gets in trouble, pulls out their Bible looking for a favorite verse or fervently says a prayer? But the solution they hoped for, prayed for, wished for doesn’t happen?

“Spinach Theology” is only good when a miracle follows. What happens if there is no miracle?

Many stop believing in the power of “Spinach.” Some people leave the church, reject God or stop taking God seriously. “Why should I attend church? I ate the spinach and nothing happened.” Even some church attenders have “Spinach Theology.” They once ate the spinach but the hoped for miracle never occurred. They didn’t stop believing in God but they stopped believing in a God of miracles. They no longer expect much, from their church or from God.

Some crisis are simply bigger than “Spinach Theology” can handle. Recently:

1. Nine people murdered during a Bible Study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston.
2. Eight police officers murdered in the line of duty within 30 days.
3. Two reporters killed and another wounded doing a routine story at Smith Mountain Lake.

Jim Winkler, a top executive of the National Council of Churches wrote: “Today, all Americans, whether they admit it or not, have to be prepared for the possibility each and every day they may be shot and killed or wounded, whether they are in Bible study in church, sitting in a movie theater or attending school, driving their car down the street, standing at a bus stop, or reporting on tourism for the local TV station,” Winkler said. “This is insanity. This is a crisis of faith that most houses of worship do not address in any way.”

When prayed for miracles don’t happen? When large scale crisis confront us and solutions don’t present themselves? Do we walk away from the church? From God?

Or, could we turn toward God instead and seek guidance toward better understanding questions such as: Who is God? Can I trust God? Where is God when crisis and problems overwhelm me?

Maybe God is not the problem after all? Maybe the real problem is our “Spinach Theology?”

Next week: Moving from “Spinach Theology” toward something better…

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