When you were very young, were you ever afraid of your mother’s vacuum cleaner? Were you scared it might suck you up? And what would happen then? Would you just vanish?
Of course, you’re much older now and you know that something like that could never happen…or could it?
About 50 years ago, a famous Rock and Roll band known as The Beatles made a movie called Yellow Submarine. In this movie, the four Beatles sail from Liverpool, England to a magical world called Pepperland, and guess what, they travel in a yellow submarine.
But this is not a trip like any you’ve ever taken. The Beatles travel across a Sea of Time where clocks run backwards as well as forwards, through a Sea of Science full of all sorts of weird shapes, and into a Sea of Monsters.
In this Monstrous Sea, the yellow sub is attacked by a bunch of fierce creatures and machines…but nothing is more frightening than the dreaded Vacuum Monster. This creature looks a little bit human but in the place where it should have a nose and a mouth it has instead a large cone-shaped funnel. This funnel looks very much like an attachment you might put onto a real vacuum cleaner. And sure enough, the Vacuum Monster uses this funnel to suck up everything in its path.
First, it sucks up all the other monsters; then it sucks up the yellow sub itself. But it’s not done yet!
Next, it sucks up everything around it including space itself. Now there is nothing left in the whole universe except the Vacuum Monster. But it’s still not done!
Now, it sucks itself up and vanishes, along with almost everything inside it. Why does it do that? Why does it suck itself up along with everything else? Because it can’t help itself! As long as it lives, it can’t stop sucking. It’s a Vacuum. Sucking is what a vacuum does. Unlike your mother’s vacuum cleaner, it doesn’t have an off switch. So when there’s nothing else left to suck up, it sucks up itself.
We’re not like the Vacuum Monster. We have free will. We can decide what we want to do and when we want to do it. And we can stop doing it when we want to stop doing it. There’s nothing we can’t do (as long as we’re able) but there’s also nothing we have to do. There are things we should do and things we shouldn’t do but whether we actually to them or not…is up to us. We decide.
Not so with the Vacuum Monster. It does what it’s programmed to do. It has to suck itself up. What if it didn’t? That would mean that our world was really two worlds…a world of things that get sucked up and a world of things that do the sucking. But that’s not the way our world works. Our world is one world, not two. If something sucks up others, it will eventually suck itself up too. In our world, what you do to others, you do to yourself as well.
You’ve probably heard of the Golden Rule. It goes something like this: “Do to others what you would like them to do to you.” If you would like to be treated kindly, for example, then you should treat others with kindness. If you would like others to be generous towards you, then you should be generous towards them. It’s a good rule and most of the time things work out better for us when we follow it. In fact, Jesus himself taught the Golden Rule.
But there is another rule in the Bible called the Great Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says it, St Paul says it, St. James says it and it’s in the Old Testament too. The Great Commandment is like the Golden Rule, only different. According to the Golden Rule, you do nice things for other people because its the right thing to do and because you hope they’ll do nice things for you.
The Great Commandment says something a little bit different. According to the Great Commandment, when you do nice things for others you also do something nice for yourself…automatically. And of course, when you do mean things to other people, you are being mean to yourself…also automatically. If you make another person happy, you make yourself happy too; and if you make another person sad…well, you know what’s coming next, don’t you?
Whatever you do towards your neighbor you also do towards yourself. When you act a particular way you towards someone, you act that same way toward yourself.Your actions affect others…and yourself…all at the same time.
Yellow Submarine follows the Great Commandment, not so much the Golden Rule. The Vacuum Monster is a sucker. It sucks up its neighbors and oops, when it sucks up its neighbors, it sucks up itself too. What it does to others it does to itself…automatically.
I said the Vacuum Monster sucks itself up and vanishes, along with almost everything inside it. Not everything inside it, almost everything inside it. What survives? Just one thing: the yellow submarine! How come? Because the yellow sub doesn’t just live in our ordinary world; it also lives in the magical world called Pepperland. The yellow submarine is how people go back and forth from Liverpool (our world) to Pepperland. As far as we know, there is no other way! So when the Vacuum Monster sucks up everything, even the yellow submarine, the submarine remains because it lives in Pepperland too and nothing in Pepperland ever vanishes. Pepperland is forever, and so is everything in it!
Are there any such things as Vacuum Monsters? Are there any in our world today? Did I just hear you say, “No?” Sure there are! They’re called Black Holes. Black holes exist throughout space and one is even sitting at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, right now. They suck up everything around them, yes everything, including space and time, just like the Vacuum Monster. And just like the Vacuum Monster, eventually they even suck themselves into oblivion.
According to the famous physicist, Stephen Hawking, when a black hole sucks, it sucks up more than just things. It sucks up information (or knowledge) too. The things that get sucked up disappear…but the knowledge stays behind. But there’s a catch! The knowledge that survives is so jumbled and confused that you can’t make any sense out of it, much less use it for anything worthwhile.
The same thing happens in Yellow Submarine. After the Vacuum Monster sucks itself into oblivion, there is no more space and time. What’s left is a real nowhere land. The Beatles find themselves alone in a totally empty world…empty, that is, except for Jeremy Hillary Boob, PhD.
Dr. Boob is a real nowhere man living in this nowhere land. He knows everything that has ever been known…but really he knows nothing at all because he doesn’t understand what he knows. It’s as if you memorized a speech in a foreign language that you don’t actually know how to speak. You might be able to recite it, but you would have no idea what you were saying. That’s how it is with Dr. Boob. And that’s how it is when a black hole vanishes.
With the Beatles’ help, Dr. Boob begins to organize his information and slowly but surely he learns to make use of it. Eventually, he joins the Beatles on board the yellow submarine and he goes with them for the rest of their voyage, through the Sea of Holes into the Sea of Green to Pepperland itself…but that’s another story altogether.
Would it surprise you to hear that there are stories in the Bible that sound a lot like this story? Take creation for instance. Genesis says that the earth was once without form or shape; in other words, it was a real nowhere land. Then God said, “Let there be light and there was light…and God separated the light from the darkness.” Then God separated sky from earth, oceans from dry land, and day from night. In other words, God organized everything so we could make sense of it…and put it to use! Then on the 7th day of creation, God rested. Now it is our job is to continue to make sense of this world and to continue to organize it so that we can accomplish useful and helpful things.
The same thing happens at the other end of time, when our world finally comes to an end…only it happens in reverse. Christ, the Son of God, finishes the job. He puts everything in “proper order” and he even destroys death itself. Then he draws all things to himself and finally he turns all things, including himself, over to God the Father, “so that God may be all in all”. Christ acts just like the Vacuum Monster, except that when he draws everything to himself, he does not draw everything into oblivion but into Heaven!
So the story of the Vacuum Monster in Yellow Submarine is a great tale. But it is more than just a good story; it’s good science and good religion too.