The Vending Machine God

If you ever visit Tokyo, you might be struck by the sprawling cityscape, the scarily punctual metro system or the swarming masses of people. But what struck me were the vending machines everywhere I looked. They’re such a simple machine - put your money in, get your drink out - but because they were all around me, I thought about them a lot and realized that it’s not only vending machines that we use like that. That’s exactly how we treat God sometimes.

Let me explain. Our ideas of things govern the way we act towards them. For example, if we think of someone as a friend, we treat him differently than if we think of him as a nuisance. Our compliance with traffic laws, too, depends on how we think of them: arbitrary rules given to us by the government to restrict our freedom or guidelines to keep ourselves safe. It is therefore extremely important to have clear ideas and firm beliefs about things so that our actions towards them are thoughtful and appropriate.

When Our Lord taught his disciples to pray, He taught them the Our Father. He was trying to give them the right idea of God, an idea that was startlingly different from the way many Jews at the time perceived God. If we think of God as a father, as Jesus intended his disciples to, we will treat Him differently than if we think of Him as an impersonal being who controls the universe or as an angry tyrant over our hearts. People behave very differently towards God because their ideas of Him are all so different. Perhaps we should examine our own.

God is mysterious. His very being is triune, a mystery that we will never fully grasp, but which is fundamental to our faith. However, we still need to get to know God to some degree in order to love Him. Therefore, we need human ways to help us understand the nature of God. Christ Himself is the prime example of this human way of understanding God, since He is God made man. Christ also gives us images that enlighten us about His nature, like that of a father or a shepherd or a king.

Often, however, instead of forming our idea of God around His power, His friendship, His fatherhood, which would inspire us to treat him as a God, a Friend, and a Father, we think of Him as a glorified vending machine.

We say our daily rosary, go to mass on Sundays, say our prayers before meals, donate some money to the parish, occasionally practice virtue and expect entitlement to the reward of heaven. If we just feed God the right combination of prayers and sacrifices, He will, like a vending machine, spit out our reward, right? We assume that He is obliged to do this. When God doesn't answer our prayers or our efforts seem to go ignored, we feel indignant. God was supposed to give us that consolation; God has to give me that job I've been praying for.

After all, when we put money into a vending machine and it does not give us the can of coke we wanted, we get angry, pound the machine, complain to our friends; we feel entitled to that can of coke.

But in truth, nobody, not even the greatest saint, is entitled to anything. We live our lives, praying, sacrificing, practicing virtue to express our love for God, not to earn heaven for heaven is a gift. If God rewards us with heaven, it is because He is infinitely loving and kind.

Ask yourself: what is my idea of God? Your answer will explain your behavior towards Him. For how can we even begin to love God if our ideas of Him are so skewed? If God is nothing but a glorified vending machine to us, it is no wonder that it is difficult to love’s not easy to love a vending machine.

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