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Do not treat God as a divine vending machine

I remember a priest once saying that we do not go boldly into foolishness in order to see if God will follow. In Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted by Satan, and in one of the temptations, Satan takes Jesus up to the highest pinnacle on the temple, and tells him to jump off. Jesus says that we are not to tempt or test God. We are not to treat God as a “divine vending machine,” who will give us what we want. In Hosea, the prophet condemns Israel for treating God as a divine vending machine. They did not have vending machines in their day, so Hosea does not use those words, but rather he condemns Israel for treating God as if God were Baal, the Canaanite god. In Baal worship, the people believed that if they just made the right sacrifices, then they would get a good harvest. This attitude, that God exists to give us what we want, was popularized by Janice Joplin, when she sang, “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” In Hosea 6, the people say that if they just turn around towards God, then God will restore them, even when they have not changed their behavior. They had turned their religion into a system of magic.

Today we have the same behavior: we have people who treat religion as if it were magic. This seems to cut across denominational lines, though there do seem to be hot spots. There are people who believe they can engage in risky behavior, and God will save them from the natural consequences of their actions. Some people might point to snake handlers in West Virginia, or to firewalkers in Bulgaria and Greece, but I think that we can look at more common behavior. I have run into people who thought that they could not get sick from taking communion, because it was too holy. Now there is some science related to communion, specifically, when bacterial cultures were done on common cups (a chalice from which everyone drank), individual glass cup, and individual disposable plastic cups, what was found was that the common cup had the fewest germs, and the plastic disposable cups had the most germs. The answer as to why is very simple: plastic is somewhat porous, and holds the germs better than glass or metal; while metal chalices, filled with wine, which is slightly acidic, have a small electric current that inhibit bacteria.

That said, since there is a disease spreading like wildfire, we do not ignore science. In the same way, those who still gather for worship, Bible study, or prayer meetings, and do not practice social distancing (because God will protect them) are the same thing as if Jesus had jumped off the temple (because God would protect him). We do not try or test God. We do not ignore science, and treat God as if God were a divine vending machine. We do not treat God as if God were Baal. When the medical authorities say that we need to social distance, then that is what we need to do: God gave us doctors for a reason, God gave us scientists for a reason. Similarly, when government says that we are not to have gatherings of more than a certain number, we are to do as they say. Romans 13 tells us that we are to obey those in authority because they were put there by God. In this time of chaos, we need to pull together: we need to think about how our actions affect others. We have been warned for decades that this was coming. Now that this pandemic is here, we need to unite as a society.

(“From the Pulpit” is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)

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