Bugs in the Bag
Greg's discovery of an infestation of bugs in his bag of flour gives rise to some ruminations on our limited understanding of both earthly and heavenly life.
|I've got a steady dose of creatures in my home right now. I'm infested. Little bitty moths. Did you ever have those? They're everywhere in my house. I must kill ten or fifteen of them a day, which is kind of a hassle because each time I smash one it makes a brown dusty smudge on the wall. Don't you hate that? It's not too bad in the kitchen, you know, where the walls are shiny you can wipe it off. It kind of gets into the non-glossy paint in the rest of the house and makes a little smudge mark. It's kind of like an epitaph of sort for the late great moth.I saw a little grub four days ago, a little green grub inching across my ceiling. Now I wonder where he thought he was. They're crawling on my counter tops. You know I even found two or three of those little grubs--and this is a true story, ladies and gentlemen, I'm not making this up--I found them crawling out of the pop-top of my coffee thermos. You know the little pop top that lets you pour in the car so it doesn't spill. I popped it up and there coming out of the spout were three little worms, and I had just washed it like the day before. I discovered this, by the way, when I was driving on the freeway on the way to work just about to pour my first cup of coffee. I think it was medium roast Java, if I'm not mistaken. At least these creatures have cultured tastes, right?|
I think these moths are called Millers. Did you ever hear of those Miller Moths? I think that’s what they’re called. They feed on the grain in my pantry, right? So, I went through my cupboards and pulled out a couple of ancient sacks of flour and, yes, there were some bugs in there. Frankly, the bugs in my flour don’t bother me too much, I usually just mix them right up in the cookie batter. I figure you can’t tell the beetles from the chocolate chips. It also adds a little protein, which is good.
After I cleaned out the flour I realized there weren’t enough bugs in the flour to account for all the flying thingies in my house so I began to look around a little bit more. I had those little worms in everything. They were in my walnuts, they had turned my pecans to dust. Little green worms were marching across the tollhouse morsels and now I couldn’t tell those from the chocolate chips. It seems like anything those little bugger moths could drill through they did and they laid their eggs. Where they got the drill I don’t know. They could get through pretty hardy stuff with that beak of theirs. In any event, you could see these drill holes everywhere.
The craziest thing was when I found a sealed bag of brown rice covered with the tell tale drill holes. Now think about it for a minute. Those moths could get in, right? They’d be smuggled in through the pin holes by their mamas as eggs but they couldn’t get out. The grown moth is not going to crawl back through that hole. Is the picture beginning to unfold a little bit for you? Generations upon generations of eggs, worms, mama moths living their miserable little existence entirely within the confines of that paper sack. In fact, that’s just what my roommate said, “Gee, how do you like that? You live your whole life in a paper sack.” I thought he’d better not tell PETA. All of this occurred to me, by the way, just before I unfastened the top of the rice bag. When I opened the bag, sure enough, there was a universe of critters in there. When I popped the bag opened I set the captives free. They flew away–which is significant–because who knows how many generations of moths in that brown paper universe had wings but could never fly.
Now I got to thinking about these bugs. I wondered if they wondered “What are these wings for? We have these things on our backs they must be useful for something.” They’re definitely not meant for crawling around in a sack of grain. Maybe they even had counsels or little pow-wows or something where they’d sit around in circles munching on my pecans and chocolate chips, with a small fire of shell husks. They would kind of reflect back–it’s one of these stories that gets handed down through the generations–talking about the faint primal memory of flight. Maybe they passed down prophecy about the time in the future when their bag would be shaken and the California whole grain brown rice would erupt. The heavens would be rent and they’d be spewed forth. This other world, a world only suggested by the faint glimmer seeping through pinholes in the sack. By the existence of these things, these appendages on their backs, there must have been some higher purpose than they’d ever realized when this whole world would then be opened up to them and they’d all spread their wings and soar again.
Now, of course, if they’re talking about this–if you think about it you kind of have to be a bit brain damaged to reflect on this–if they talked about the time when they would soar again–keep in mind nobody really knew what flight really was because it had been so long since any had actually done it, they’ve been crawling all this time–they had only the vaguest inkling of what it could be like, and even then the inkling wasn’t very close to the real thing, right? Now, I hope you’re listening to me, ladies and gentlemen, because I’m talking about a lot more than just bugs here. Yes, there is a profound theological observation but you’ve got to get the picture. You’ve got it, okay?
This isn’t really about bugs, but the bugs got me thinking. I realized that that’s kind of like us. We are in a kind of a paper bag with a few holes punched through it in which we can see another world, but very vaguely. C.S. Lewis made a very interesting observation once. He suggested that we have yearnings and desires for things only because these hungers have a corresponding fulfillment somewhere–kind of like those wings on the moths in my rice sack. They had wings because there was such a thing as flight even though they were stuck in a place where they couldn’t fly. We don’t possess something for which there is no use, and that includes even our desires.
Just as a parenthetical here, this would be true from an evolutionary or a theistic point of view. From an evolutionary point of view it seems that we would not have things that have no use with regards to our personal survival or didn’t provide a pro-creative advantage. So this reflection works for everybody. We hunger for food because food exists to satisfy the hunger, for example. We hunger for sex because mating is possible, at least theoretically for us bachelors. We hunger for love because love can be requited.
Obviously our appetites don’t always get fed, but it isn’t because food or sex or love don’t exist. Maybe we just can’t get to them, that’s all and so we go hungry. But the hunger itself tells us something. At least that’s what Lewis suggests. So our desires are a clue to the existence of other things, things that fulfill those desires, like the moths thinking about the wings on their backs which weren’t doing them much good in the sack. They must have some other purpose. And you know, I haven’t really thought through this in a thoroughgoing way, but I think Lewis is on to something; and it strikes me that we simply don’t have desires which have no genuine object.
Lewis’ application had to do with heaven. We hunger for utopia. We have this utopia hunger inside of us, this desire for perfect relationships, this desire for a perfect environment, this desire to be in a place with no pain, no conflicts, no difficulties. A utopia. He says we really know, even though we desire that, that it’s not to be had not in this life. If we were really honest, he said, we would have to recognize that we acutely want something that is not to be had in this world. And that’s significant. If it’s not to be had in this world but it’s a real genuine desire and desires have their objects, then the object of their desire, the fulfillment of it must be other worldly or in another world. But it must be real. It must be attainable.
There are all kinds of things like this. I’ve argued for things like morality. The idea itself is an old one. It didn’t originate with me. Lewis points out in his book Mere Christianity that every culture seems to have a basic fundamental morality that needs explaining and the reality goes beyond pragmatics. It isn’t just so society will be maintained, because why should any individual care why society is maintained? But beyond just the list of rules that every society has in some measure, the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer says that there is a hunger inside of us–never mind the content of the morality which would be the rules themselves–but the fact that we have this moral hunger, this moral machine. He called it moral motions. The fact that that exists implies that there is something out there to meet that moral hunger–moral rules. Our moral motions are not without meaning, he argues, because we can infer from them a moral law out there somewhere that these moral desires correspond to.
It’s interesting when we think about those things. We think about humanness. I don’t believe, ladies and gentlemen, that we really know what it’s like to be human. What we know is like crawling around in a closed paper bag. We live most of our miserable existence there, squashed into a paper bag universe and we think that’s all it is. Now there are pinholes in this bag and we can see outside every once in a while. Like when we reflect about morality. We have a hunger for something that can’t exist in the paper bag. It doesn’t make sense to think of hunger in terms of the bag and the rice and the dust and pro-creation moths and larvae and all that. It is something other than what the bag is. It’s not physical, it’s something other. It’s something from that other world out there where we expect some of our deepest longings may be fulfilled. And we’ve crawled around in a closed sack as it were munching the grain.
Pascal called that “licking the earth.” I think it’s a great illustration. Man trying to satisfy his deepest desires which are immaterial desires by licking the earth. Materially trying to suck up what was in his reach to try to satisfy a hunger that wasn’t meant to be satisfied with essentially dirt which was the way Pascal argued. Stuffing our guts with rotting grain but never learning to fly. And you know, we don’t even remember what it’s like to fly. We have this vague thing that we pass on, this hint, this memory, this feeling.
In any event, I wonder what it will be like when the veil of our own universe is rent and we see the rest of what is, that which we can only see through the pinholes in the veil. When we see the rest of what is as it really is. When all of our deepest hungers discover their true satisfaction. And we finally spread our own wings and experience how man was truly meant to fly. Truly what it means to be fully human. There is only one person I know of that has ever really experienced that. That will be something, won’t it? It’s coming, and I hope you are ready for it.