My Vending Machine God

You know how a vending machine works. You put your money in, press the button and presto! Out comes your goodie. Usually. The vending machine is a marvelous invention for its quick fix, satisfying products. Obviously, it may require a kick and a shake now and then, but overall, the vending machine is not all bad.

What is bad, however, is when we think of God as a vending machine.

The Vending Machine God:  A User’s Guide

It’s shocking — even crass — to think about God in these terms. God:  a vending machine?! Really?

Sadly, that’s the way many Christians treat him. Without realizing it, we may have fallen into this demeaning form of theologizing. Here is how it works.

What to Put in

When we think of God as a vending machine — or, to switch metaphors, as a heavenly genie who dispenses good upon those who do good — we think of him in a do-good, get-good sort of way.  Of course, we try to use the exact change, or at least fold the corners flat on the bills, in order to get the machine to give us what we want. Here is some of the currency we put in:

  • Go to church regularly
  • Read-your-Bible-pray-every-day
  • Go on a short-term mission trip (bonus points if it’s a third world country and you stay in a place with no running water)
  • Teach Sunday School or lead a small group
  • Don’t cheat on your spouse
  • Have family devotions
  • Thank God for your meal before you eat
  • Fish decal
  • Tithe
  • Guilty feelings when we’ve done something bad

What You’ll Get in Return

None of those acts above are bad things. Christians should be engaging in actions of that reflect our obedience to God. The problem, however, is the heart or attitude behind those actions — what we expect or demand from God in return. This is where Vending Machine Theology creeps in. We’ve scratched God’s back, now he’s got to scratch ours. Here are some of the things we expect in return for our payment.

  • God will love us more.
  • God will give us more money or stuff. This is the big one.
  • God will grow our church.
  • God will prosper our ministry.
  • God will protect our family.
  • God will keep us from harm and sickness.
  • God will make us happy.

Doesn’t this sometimes happen to us? We think of Christianity as an if-then bargain. If we do such-and-such, then God will do such-and-such.

Sure, God promises rewards in the Bible. Their are crowns to be sought after. There is a race to be won. There are the longed-for words of God to the faithful servant — “Well done.”

But God is not a vending machine. And we must not treat him or our Christian walk in a way that minimizes his majesty and sovereignty. Christianity is not a list of obligations, rules, or regulations. It doesn’t come with a contract and payment terms. We serve a great God whose incredible power, wisdom, and holiness far exceed our imagination.

When the Vending Machine Doesn’t Work

If you’ve ever used vending machines, you know that they don’t always work. Sometimes, the machine totally swallows your money and stiffs you the candy bar. A swift kick resulting in toe pain is the only thing that will come of this. The worst thing to happen is when the bag of chips just dangles there at the edge, but doesn’t fall out. This is where you have to tip the machine — risky, but true — to possibly get your fifty cents worth of junk food.

Sadly, Vending Machine Theology works the same way. We develop a smoldering sense of self-righteous anger when we don’t get what we want. We kick. We cuss. We try harder. We’ve been obedient! We’ve followed all the rules! Where are the goods?! C’mon!”

Jesus told a story one time that sums up this attitude. The story is known as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but there is an important lesson for the not-so-prodigal sons among us, too. When the generous father, a picture of God, throws a party for the prodigal who returned, the older brother pulls his dad aside and demands, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate.”

It is as if the older brother is saying, “Hey, what’s up? I’ve been breaking my back working for you. I’ve done the right things. Where’s my party?” The older brother was ticked off that the vending machine didn’t deliver the expected Snickers bar.

God is Not a Vending Machine

Vending Machine Theology is laced with legalism, shrouded in pride, choked with hypocrisy and besot with a me-first mentality. There is nothing in it that honors God. Let us instead honor God with our passionate devotion, without the of greedy demands. Let us honor him for his wisdom, without complaining that we’ve been shortchanged. Let us stand in awe of our God, and seek to know him for who he truly is.

Wow. It's Quiet Here...

Be the first to start the conversation!

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image

Connect with Facebook