There are few things more frustrating than going to a vending machine, putting your money in, pressing the corresponding buttons with the item you want… and then it either gets stuck or doesn’t come out. Many of us have experienced such pain & despair when the machine eats our money.
I used to work as a security officer at a large university in Canada & often saw people use whatever means they could to get the item from the machine. Some had coat hangers; some simply charged at the machine like a charging rhino on a mission for a snack. Nevertheless, it was a common occurrence to see the glass to the machine broken because someone was so frustrated that they did not get what they wanted from the machine.
For many people, God is like a vending machine.
Many Christians and non-Christians see God & religion as a holy vending machine who is there to provide them whatever they want. If they do the right things (press the right buttons) then, surely, God will owe them what they deserve for putting in the right amount! After all, they worked for it, didn’t they?
Someone wants more money, a new car, a nice place to live, a dream vacation, a spouse, happiness, and some materialist things. So what do they do? Pray, go to church every week, volunteer at the church during the week, do their devotions, and attend all the church events. They put in the right amount of church hours & pressed the right buttons of holiness… So where’s the item they wanted from God? Wasn’t He impressed by their hours of service to Him? Isn’t this the part where He dispenses the wealth?
Someone else is suffering (or knows someone close to them suffering) from some major (or minor) illness. They pray & “trust God” that He will heal them or their close friend/relative of the illness. Sometimes Catholics will even pray to the proper saint to grant this sort of thing (as if Jesus is too busy or something). So what happens when the vending machine doesn’t dispense the health they were looking for?
The list could of examples could go on. The point is that they were good & did the right religious thing, so God owes them what they want.
A Means To An End
For these people, the vending machine (God) is a means to an end. “I want something, so I go to the holy vending machine to get it.” No one cares about a vending machine for a vending machines sake! No one sees the vending machine as valuable in and of itself! No one cares about an “out of order” vending machine that is empty and has nothing to offer! They don’t care about the machine, they just care about what it has to offer them.
In this sense, people are not worshiping God because they get more of Him when they die; rather, because they don’t want Hell. If people understand/believe in a literal Heaven & Hell, then they would be foolish to choose Hell. Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). Jesus becomes the vending machine & Heavenly peace is what He dispenses. They do not see that Jesus is not the means to an end; rather, HE is the end goal. Heaven is about Jesus & not mainly about avoiding eternal suffering.
What About My Happiness?
“Doesn’t God know that I would be really happy if He would just give me what I am asking Him for? I’m not asking for something bad!”
Many people will be discouraged and lose hope when the vending machine (God) doesn’t give them what they thought would make them happy. As if they know what is better for them than God does. It is a difficult thing to believe that God is so sovereign that He may withhold certain things from us (like an item getting stuck in the machine). Maybe if they try different methods or religions, they will still be able to get the desired item out of the machine. God sometimes chooses not to give us what we think we deserve because there is actually a better outcome to be given at a later time. What seems like a horrible evil on God’s part sometimes turns out to be a huge blessing later on.
In his book ‘Mere Christianity,’ C. S. Lewis rightly says: “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Does God Give Good Gifts?
Does all of this talk against God being a vending machine suggest that God does not give good gifts to people? Certainly not!
We still believe that God is good & sovereign over all things. Jesus says in Matthew 7:9-11 “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
God freely gives good gifts because He is a good Father… not because He is a holy vending machine who owes us anything.
It is not wrong for a child to ask their father for something, but good fathers (usually) have the wisdom to know what a child needs and does not need. Good fathers don’t simply give their children everything they ask for, even if the child cleaned his room or behaves in school.
When people see God as their personal holy vending machine who does not deliver, they tend to ask questions like “why do bad things happen to good people?” (which is a problematic question in & of itself which I shall address in my next post). However, in light of God being our good & sovereign Father, we have sufficient reason to see why he may withhold certain things from people who think they deserve it because they were good (like pressing the right buttons on the vending machine).
Some people have lost their faith in God because they saw Him as their vending machine whom they trusted to receive a certain item from. In His wisdom, He did not give them the item they asked despite their thinking that they had somehow earned it. They carried on with their life without Him because they thought that a good vending machine would always provide.
Others have lost their faith in God because they saw Him as their vending machine that did give them the good gift they asked for. They got what they wanted from Him (money, health, a spouse, etc.) and carried on with their life without Him. They had no need for the vending machine (God) after that.
Anything that this world offers you has an expiration date. It is fallible. It can never provide everlasting satisfaction and joy. God is not a vending machine placed in your life to make you happy & give you whatever you want or even think you need.
God cares more about His glory than making everyone in the world superficially happy. God is not a means to an end; rather, He must be our Treasure. He must be the very Person we prize above all else.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
– Tyson Bradley