Statistically Peanut Butter M&Ms are the number 1 bestselling item in vending machines worldwide. Well I don’t know if that’s true it is just the number 1 bestselling item worldwide anytime I am standing at a vending machine. Fun fact Peanut Butter M&Ms are usually not found until the 3rd or 4th row and somewhat in the middle of the row. Ergo D3 is usually always the right choice.
I have spent a lot of money on vending machines around this great country of ours. For all of college and seminary I went to school 3 hours or more away from where my family lived. So naturally I would end up driving home from school a lot. For about the 9 years of my life I was in school I usually went home 5-6 times a semester.
Now most people when they go on road trips stop and get fast food, but I am not like most people. I thought getting off the toll road was a stupid practice, so I would only ever stop at rest stops. Every rest stop in the country has the same two choices when you get there. One, risk E.coli and attempt to order something at the fast food joint (usually a nasty looking Burger King) or two hit up the vending machines. Needless to say, I would always pick the vending machines.
The concept of the vending machine is brilliant. I as a consumer approach the vending machine and get to see all my options laid out in front of me. I then insert my currency and select Peanut Butter M&Ms and then immediately receive my M&Ms. The transaction completes with me getting my change and going on my way, only to return in five minutes to get more M&Ms. It is so simplistic and yet so brilliant. The ability to have on demand food in any location worldwide that has electricity and requires no one to man the “store” is simply brilliant. The whole concept fits perfectly into a culture that has “on-demand” everything.
The problem with visiting vending machines so much is that they start to change your perception of how things should be. For instance, I assume now that I can walk up to any store or kiosk, deposit my money and then receive whatever I want. Its like a programed behavior of trading in currency and receiving what I want. The mentality is only worsened by Amazon Prime and now the dang same-day pick up service, which is honestly just like a giant infinite vending machine.
Over the last ten years of my life, I have developed a pattern of expecting to receive certain results based on the currency I deposit. I constantly catch myself believing that I should have good outcomes in my life if I am performing good deeds. Like the good deeds are my currency and the paid off student loans are my Peanut Butter M&Ms. Most people call this thought pattern karma, however I like to think of it as a Vending Machine God.
One day when I was in seminary I remember calling my mom about a problem I was having. I explained to her all the issues surrounding this particular problem and then vented that these negative things shouldn’t be happening to me because I was in seminary. My mom, who is brilliant, stopped me and said, “So God is a vending machine?”. She was right, my mentality was that because I did good deeds like going to seminary, I would get a free pass on hardships in my life. Just like a vending machine where I deposit a certain currency and then receive my desired outcome I expected God to give me my desired results because I was “serving Him”.
I would like to say that I learned my lesson that day and never participated in “Vending Machine” theology again but its not true. Two days ago, I paid for the person behind me in the Starbucks line and then proceeded to get angry when I spilled coffee in my car. It was such a shock to me that after I had just got done doing a good deed for someone that something bad would happen to me.
Growing up my family went through its fair share of troubles and by the time I had made it to college I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that bad things just randomly happen sometimes. There is no predicting when a car accident will occur or when you will need random medical attention. There is no predictor on what causes some people to be born into families with wealth and some people to be born poor. There is no way to stop a parent or loved one from making terrible mistakes or choices that affect everyone in your family. These things are all random.
But random isn’t fair, balance and equality are fair. If a man cuts you off in traffic its only fair he should get a ticket. If you spend all school year playing video games instead of studying its only fair you get a lower grade and if you eat 5lbs of Peanut Butter M&Ms you should gain 5lbs. For some reason though “fair” isn’t how God made things.
There are a couple of arguments for how we know this isn’t the way God made things. For starters there is the “Grace” argument, we all deserve death because of sin but are given Grace and life instead. There is also the “random” argument that God causes the sun to shine on both the just and the unjust. God seems to consistently take our concept of what is fair and flip it on its head.
However, in my humble opinion I believe that God never intended vending machine theology to work because if it did our motivations would never be pure. The motivation behind all our actions should be to glorify God, nothing else. Thus, if every time we acted in a way that brought glory to God we received something in return, our motivations would solely be for the something in return. Just like a vending machine where we put money in and get our Peanut Butter M&Ms, we would deposit our good deeds fully expecting our positive outcomes.
In The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Lewis spends some ink writing about the concept of free love. He writes that God truly desires his creation to choose Him out of a place of freedom and not obligation.
(Side Note) If you have never read The Screwtape Letters this passage may seem weird. The basic concept of the book is that there are a series of “found” letters written between two demons who are trying to subtly drag a human away from a relationship with God. Thus this is written from the demons perspective.
“One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; (2) He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.”
The passage here is talking about salvation but the logic holds true for all aspects of our life. God truly does desire us to willing choose Him and His goals. He wants us to daily die to ourselves for Christ’s sake not for our own motivations. He desires a world in which we are all filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit that we cannot help to think of ourselves second to the Gospel. He desires us to act according to His will out of freedom and desire. All of this is lost so quickly if everything we do is returned to us in kind.
So, go forth doing all kinds of good deeds in Christ’s name. Then after you complete them forget that they ever happened, so you might not be tempted into looking for your Peanut Butter M&Ms.
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing – Jesus (Matthew 6:3)