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God Isn't Your Vending Machine

How many times have you read something like this on Facebook…

“I went to the doctor today and my cancer test came back clean. God is so good.”

“I wasn’t supposed to get a promotion for another six months, but my boss walked in today and surprised me. God is good.”

“There were 150 people who applied for the job that I just got. God is watching out for me.”

I don’t disagree with the notion that God is good. There is much in the Bible to back that up. Psalm 106:1 is a classic example:  “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.”

I’m just not sure your clean bill of health or promotion proves God is good—anymore than someone who has a cancer-ravaged body or who just got fired proves God is cruel or vindictive.

If God is good because your kid aces the SAT or comes home with a great report card—then God must be mean and punishing to the parent whose kid struggles in school and will never get in the honors program or AP class.

If God is good because your cancer is gone and you suddenly have a new lease on life—then he must be evil to the person who prayed just as hard and trusted just as much but whose latest doctor visit revealed a death sentence.

The way we think about God and talk about him when life is good and going our way reveals much about our theology, and sets us up for extreme disappointment with God when life falls apart and we don’t think we can stand another day.

Today I put six quarters in a parking meter and in return got to park my car for an hour. I think many of us think of God like a parking meter. If I pray, if I go to church, if I am kind to my wife, read the Bible to my kids and tithe to my church—then God will be good to me (translated he will keep my car running and my kids healthy). We treat prayer like a power that binds the hands of God and makes him do our bidding.

The truth is—I’m not sure God is that interested in protecting you from pain, heartache, disease or sadness. God loves you, and that love compels him to walk with you and be next to you in whatever life deals you—but that doesn’t mean his chief goal is to remove discomfort from your life.

When my brother-in-law lost his yearlong, excruciatingly painful battle with ALS—I struggled with the concept of God’s goodness. I knew (in my head) that it is true, but many days I didn’t feel it in my heart.  When my friend and his wife lost their baby, I couldn’t imagine walking up to them and whispering “God is good” to comfort their loss. He sure didn’t feel good to them in that moment.

The truth? God is good. He is good when my car is running, and he is good when it breaks down. He is good to the family who has never experienced loss, and he is good to the widow who has lost everything. God is good when you are employed, and he is good though you just lost your home. The unwavering truth of God’s goodness has nothing to do with my life situation.

I’ve written previously about my dislike with the Christian song lyrics that say “He gives and takes away, blessed be His name.” God doesn’t sit in heaven deciding who should get cancer and who should lose a spouse. He doesn’t make you flunk a test or step on a nail or get in a car accident. What kind of God would that be? Not one I’d be interested in following.

No, I think God gives you strength to endure and grace to handle whatever comes your way. People get cancer because there is disease in the world. Families fall apart because people are broken and dysfunctional. God loves you and helps you walk through the crap that comes your way—and all the while helps make you a more loving and grace-filled person.

Our job is to keep growing in our love of God and others. Our job is to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people around us who are hurting. Our job, when life sucks, is to look for the caring hand of God helping us to make it through each day. If you look, you will find him.

Be careful next time you treat God like a vending machine. We’ve all seen the guy who throws a fit and beats up the vending machine because it doesn’t give him what he thinks he deserves. Don’t be that guy. 

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Tim Stevens served as the executive pastor of Granger Community Church in Granger, IN, for twenty years before joining Vanderbloemen Search Group as the Director of the Executive Search Consultant Team where he helps churches and ministries around the world find their key staff. Tim has a passion for the local church and equipping leaders with practical advice and tools about church staffing and church leadership. He has co-authored three books with Tony Morgan, including Simply Strategic Stuff, Simply Strategic Volunteers, and Simply Strategic Growth, and authored three books of his own, including Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles To Revolutionize Your Workplace. Connect with Tim at LeadingSmart.com.