Yesterday in her sermon, Rev. Jessica Cavinee, the lead pastor at Lewis Center United Methodist Church said “God is not our vending machine.” It was a throw-away line. Not one of the central points of her sermon, which was about stewardship. But I really liked the line and have been thinking about it ever since.
We all know how vending machines work. You put in some coins or insert or tap a credit card and out comes the bottle of Coca-Cola or candy bar of choice. Usually the machines work, spitting out the choice. Sometimes they don’t, which can be very frustrating. At Fort Frederica we had a pop machine that would often say something was sold out when it wasn’t. I got really good at opening the machine and getting out the item the visitor had selected. Fortunately, that machine got replaced with something more reliable.
God is not our vending machine. We don’t put prayers in and get a specific result out. We don’t put good works in and get blessings out. Our relationship with God is not a quid pro quo arrangement, where there is a reciprocal exchange of goods or services.
On the one hand, this can be very frustrating. We would like to have a formula or something that looks rational. If this then this. If we do this thing, then God will grant our request or petition. When we pray and pray and the answer is delayed we can fell that prayer is useless. Sometimes we feel that God doesn’t care or is absent from our lives because we put so much in but we don’t think God is giving anything out.
Usually, however, I think it is a good thing that God doesn’t behave like a vending machine. If we could fit God into our schemes and frameworks, God wouldn’t be God. And if we only got out something equal to what we put in, a lot of us would be in trouble. How many of us deserve salvation? How many goodness coins would that cost? If God gave out according to what we paid in, how many of us could earn heaven?
Fortunately, our salvation is not dependent on our actions. Jesus paid the cost for our salvation on the cross. And he promises eternal life for all who believe. Faith as small as a mustard seed.
The other problem with wanting God to be our vending machine is the difference between wants and needs. And the difference between personal wants and the needs of the overall picture. Too many of us are like the two-year-old who wants a big cookie five minutes before supper is ready. We cry and kick and scream and rail against a God who tells us no. We know what we want. Why won’t God give it to us?
Because God knows what we need. And because he loves us too much to give us a want that is going to interfere with what we need. God also sees more than just my personal wants. What if saying yes to me meant God had to say no to ten other people? What if fulfilling my self-centered desires meant there wouldn’t be enough for others? God sees more than me and more than now. God loves everyone and God sees eternity.
God is not our vending machine. Which is fine with me. God gives me so much more than I ask and loves me so much more than I can even comprehend. Even in the moments I don’t understand, I know I can trust in the goodness of God.