It would be fair to call me a cartoonerd, but I’ve never really been a big fan of Popeye.
All animated movies and TV shows have a certain charming formulaic quality about them – Bugs Bunny always takes a wrong turn at Albuquerque, Disney princesses always need to be rescued by handsome princes and Scooby-Doo villains always would have gotten away with it, if not for those meddling kids.
But every episode of Popeye is exactly the same.
Popeye and Bluto/Brutus butt heads and the overconfident, hot-tempered Popeye relies on his freakishly large forearms and tries to go toe-to-toe with the triple-his-size, well-named Bluto. He holds his own for a while, but inevitably, Bluto overpowers him. Just when it looks like all is lost, our hero gobbles down a whole can of spinach and then effortlessly mops the floor with his burly adversary.
Spinach gives Popeye superhuman strength and dexterity, allowing him to make short work of a problem that was absolutely insurmountable to the pre-spinach sailor man.
So why does he wait until the battle is already lost before he grabs the spinach? Why doesn’t he eat it before he gets into trouble? ‘Well, blow me down. Here comes Bluto. He’s always up to somethin’. Better eats me spinach now, so’s I can clobber him good later.’
But no. Popeye tries to tackle what life throws at him with his own strength first, and only reaches for the nutrient-rich vegetable when he’s had all he can stand and can’t stands no more. He may be strong to the finich, but he’s wimpy at the start.
Well, I may look a little more like Bluto (minus the hair), but I’m really a Popeye, and God is my spinach. I know, intellectually, that without Christ I’m hopelessly outmatched, but it’s only when I’m all but beaten that I truly turn things over to Him.
And I think I’m not the only believer who suffers from Popeye Syndrome.
Why do we do this? Why do we try to rely on our own muscles, when we’ve got a perfectly good can of spinach in our pockets, and we know that it’s exactly what we need?
Perhaps Mr. Thesailorman can be forgiven for saving his spinach until the straits are dire – after all, his skinny frame can only hold so many cans. If he eats the power veggie at the start of the toon, its effects may have worn off by the time he really needs it.
But that’s not true for us. God’s love and power and willingness to work in our lives are absolutely inexhaustible. We can never run out.
Now, in some iterations of the Popeye franchise, our hero dislikes spinach and only eats it grudgingly, when he has to. I think deep down, Popeye loves the taste of spinach, but he has a problem remembering that he loves it. He mistakenly believes it’s nasty and bitter, but reluctantly opens the can when he has no alternative. Once the seal on the tin is broken, he catches a whiff and instantly remembers how yummy it is – and gobbles it down with abandon. Then, once he’s pummelled Bluto and has finished digesting, the spinach, he goes back to thinking it tastes bad.
I think it works the same way with us and God. Once we’ve surrendered a situation to Him, we realize (or remember) how great it feels to experience His power, and to watch Him fix the unfixable or carry us through a season of adversity. But until that moment, we’re somehow convinced it’ll taste awful to give our problem to God. And once the crisis is over, we somehow revert to the delusion that it’s unpleasant and demeaning – rather than exhilarating and empowering – to let go and let God.
Maybe part of the solution is to rethink the contents of the can in our breast pocket. If, instead of yucky, bitter spinach, we choose to think of our Saviour as, say, a can of potato chips, we might not wait so long to open Him.
OK. Here goes:
I’m strong to the fingles, ’cause I eats me Pringles. I’m Robeye the Writer Man.
Peace be with you.