In a grade school science class, I was taught the principle that nature abhors a vacuum. If there is an empty space, nature wants to fill it. That’s why the meteorologist on the news talks about low fronts and high fronts. A low front is an area with less air pressure in it, and the nearest high front wants to pour into it until the two are equal. Our vacuum cleaners work the same way. First it creates a vacuum, an emptiness, inside the canister. Then the air outside the cleaner rushes in to fill that space, taking with it whatever dust, dirt and dog hair it can carry. (Cat hair, incidentally, clings to your clothes and furniture in defiance of the laws of science, but we’ll leave that mystery to another blog.)
The principle of the vacuum applies to more than earth, air and water. It applies to both the material and immaterial aspects of our existence. One way of looking at our nature is to see ourselves as two-part beings: material and immaterial. The material nature is the physical part of us, our flesh, our bones, even our brains. The immaterial is everything else. Words typically used to describe the immaterial parts of us include our souls, our spirits, our minds, our emotions, our intellect and our wills. These things cannot be touched or measured, but they define us. And this vacuum principle applies to our immaterial nature as well as to our bodies.
The Apostle Paul emphasized this often. His epistles repeatedly tell us to replace our old sinful lifestyle with Christ’s righteous lifestyle. Look for phrases like “put off” and “put on.”
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
We are told to put off, or empty ourselves, of those sinful habits of our past. But doing so creates a vacuum we can then fill with the traits/actions of Jesus, our present and future. We are to “put to death” those old ways because now we are alive in Christ. Sometimes Paul also says that we have already put off the old man. That’s because our new birth was a spiritual exchange in which Jesus took our deaths and gave us His life. He clothed Himself in the guilt of our sin so He could clothe us in His innocence. Now we are to take that transformation and apply it to our actions, which includes how we choose to think, feel, speak and behave.
In our reading of 1 Samuel today we see this same principle in Samuel’s command to the Israelites. He warns them not to turn aside from following the Lord and serving Him whole-heartedly because there is no such thing as neutrality with God. There’s no standing still. Either you are following Him or you are moving away from Him. If we do not follow Him, we create a vacuum inside us that wants to be filled, and it will fill itself with “empty things which cannot profit or deliver.” They are as empty as the nutritional value of the calories we consume in soda. We can choose to point the vacuum hose of our heart toward the sky and fill our lives with the behavior and character of Jesus, or we can let the hose fall to the ground where it will pick up the dirty, disgusting waste of our broken world.