Spinach Theology

Published 8:12 am Thursday, July 18, 2019

I grew up watching Popeye the Sailor 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 was consumed in one gulp with the theme song 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.

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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 Popeye cartoon. Surrounded by overwhelming burdens, you shout: “That’s all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more!” Our relationship with God can be similar to a Popeye cartoon — sort of a “Spinach Theology.” We’ve withstood all 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 Hulklike, 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 parting of the Red Sea, Elijah facing 700 prophets, Daniel in the lion’s den, Jesus feeding the 5,000. 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 helpful when miracles follow. What if there is no miracle? Many people stop believing in the power of “spinach.” Some leave the church, reject God or stop taking God seriously. “Why should I attend church? I ate the spinach, and nothing happened.” Even church attenders have “Spinach Theology.” When hoped for miracles didn’t occur. They didn’t stop believing in God, but they stopped believing in miracles. They no longer expect much, from their church or from God. Maybe God isn’t the problem? Maybe the real problem is our “Spinach Theology?”

Maybe we need to rethink and reshape our faith. We want to believe in God. We want to believe in miracles. But we need to better understand the God who loves you, created you, cares for you and desires nothing but the best for you and me. We rarely see “spinach” moments where problems are overpowered but we often overlook other moments when someone provides comfort and strength during a crisis. God is the source who helps you put difficulties in perspective, find ways to cope and realize you are never alone. God never promised spinach whenever needed.

However, God always offers a light: “Lord, you have brought light to my life; my God, you light up my darkness.” Psalm 18:28. “The Lord is my light and my salvation – so why should I be afraid.” Psalm 27:1. “Jesus said: “I am the Light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you have the light that leads to life.” John 8:12. “Jesus said: “You are the light of the world — like a city on a mountain, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead put it on a stand and let it shine for all. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see.” Mat. 5:14-16.

Who is God? God brings light to our darkness. The Lord is our ultimate source of light so why should we be afraid? How do I know God? Jesus is the Light of the world so if we follow Jesus, we won’t be stumbling in the darkness. How should I respond to God, especially in a time of crisis?

We are the light of the world, visible for all to see. Let our good deeds shine. When your burdens seem overwhelming? God provides light for your darkness. When you wonder if life is worth continuing? God shines a light to calm your fears. When you struggle and stumble to find answers? Follow the Light that leads to life. When you seek God’s purpose? You are the light of the world, glowing in the night. God never promised to provide spinach whenever needed. However, God always offers a light; God’s Light glowing in darkness, calming your fears, renewing your courage, restoring your hope and redeeming your life. Beats a can of spinach any day.

REV. LARRY E. DAVIES can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.