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false gods: medicine cabinet + vending machine

Photo Credit: Samuel Zeller

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” John 17:3

Last week I made the argument that our view of God directly affects our view of the gospel: If we don’t have an accurate, Biblical, view of God, we cannot and will not understand, much less appreciate, the gospel of Christ. But it can be tricky trying to figure out how and when our view of God morphs into something other than what it should be.

Here are the next two distorted views of God and the false gospels they bring with them.

The Medicine Cabinet

The medicine cabinet in our home is less of a cabinet and more of a basket of chaotic disarray. Identifying which pill is which and treats what, and whether or not it is toxic once expired, is a resume-worthy skill that I’ve yet to master. Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with the medicine basket regularly, and for most part I don’t think about medicine until I need it. Most over-the-counter pain medications don’t actually heal the illness but simply treat the symptoms. And when my head is throbbing, I don’t care about discovering the deeper, underlying cause of the semi-frequent discomfort; I just want the pain to go away. A medicine cabinet view of God is the same.

When we view God as a medicine cabinet, we don’t pay him much thought until we feel the symptoms of his absence in our lives: anxiety, lack of control, stress, discontentment, or looming tragedy. Then, only after exhausting all of our fix-it-ourselves tricks, in a last-ditch effort, we cry out to God for help. Now, obviously God is able to mitigate the junk in life, “Casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you” (1 Pt. 5:7, ESV) and because of Jesus we get to cry out to him during times of trouble “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16, ESV). But God is not to be approached on an “as needed” basis. When we view God as a medicine cabinet, we treat him as if he is a quick fix to alleviate the issues in our lives. We won’t necessarily have anything negative to say about him, but it is clear by our lifestyles that knowing and walking with God consistently isn’t high on the priority list, which leaves Jesus functioning as an insurance plan more than anything else in our lives. We might pray before meals or attend church on holidays, but that’s the extent of consistency when we adopt this view. God never intended to be approached on an “as needed” basis, and he describes those who do so saying, “These people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught,” (Is. 29:13, NIV). This view of God comes with a gospel that suggests that God exists to alleviate the stressors of life, as though his sole purpose is to better our lives. But this ideology, no matter how culturally popular it may be, is not Biblical: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). We need to be careful, lest we too fall into the trap of approaching God as if he is a quick fix for our problems.

When have you come to God only on an “as needed” basis?

The Vending Machine

Vending machines are oddly tantalizing. Though they only store treats with a shelf-life of thirty years and are made with ingredients we dare not try to pronounce, the affordable price tag coupled with the back lit cellophane and primary colors, allures and convinces us that the thing we are missing in life is, in fact, Flaming Hot Cheetos. So we go to unspeakable lengths to scrounge up a dollar twenty-five, from the depths of our purses, or the cup holders in our cars, and upon collecting the loot, we drop the coins into the slot and place our order. Then, upon receiving our prize, we feel one of two things: jubilation or rage.

When we view God as a vending machine, our gospel involves us using him to get what we desire. We see things that we want in life— a happy family, a godly spouse, a semblance of peace and serenity—and we start scrounging up coins so that we can place our order. Because we know how these things work, we understand that nothing in life is free ( including high-fructose regrets) so we pay whatever the cost so that we can get what we ordered. We misinterpret passages like Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”(ESV) and treat them as an action plan: delight in the Lord, so that he will give us our hearts’ desires. The issue is that we are going to God, and going through motions of Christianity, not to delight in knowing God deeply, but rather so that we can acquire our desires. God then becomes means to the end, rather than the end prize. The same rage that we feel when we get something other than what we ordered is similar to the feeling of disappointment and betrayal when God doesn’t give us the life we thought we earned. Our payment might look like church attendance, service, abstinence from this or that, and after time and energy we start to believe that God owes us what we want. The truth is that he doesn’t owe us anything, and all that we could want he offers us in himself, “You open your hand, and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Ps. 145:16, ESV). To those who approach him as if he was a vending machine, the Lord tell us to chase him first and foremost, because he is the prize, and the rest will work itself out: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33, NIV).

How have you treated God and delighting in him as means to an end?

The issue with both of these views of God, and subsequent approaches to him and the faith, is that we remain in control within both mentalities. In these scenarios God is not a king we kneel before, but rather things that we approach on our own terms to get what we want. This ideology reflects a view that God exists for us rather than us existing for him, which according to Romans 11:36, is not true and therefore is a false view of God accompanied by a false gospel. In this day and age, it is paramount that we search our hearts and minds often to ensure that we have a right and true view of who God is and not simply who we want him to be or think him to be.

How have you seen these distorted views of God affect your life?

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