I get my oil changed at those quick-change 10 minute places. The mechanic and I always play the same game—How much Money can I get this Guy to Spend?
My cars have reached the age where, apparently, they need regular maintenance that I am not adequately providing. Our routine is familiar:
“That cheap $15 oil change, please.”
Furious tinkering under the hood of my car.
“Sir, your air filter is dirty. For $15, that should be replaced.”
“Uh……Okay.” (doubling my price)
More furious tinkering.
“Sir, your transmission should be flushed, for $79 we can get that squared away.”
Calculating how much my $15 oil change is costing me, “No, Thanks.”
Never one to be daunted by a “No,” he attempts another attack.
“You know, every 30,000 miles we recommend a complete oil cleaning system that would clear out any of the deposits left. It is only $39.”
Now I am in that half-way spot of pleased I did not spend $79, and fearful that if I don’t commit, my engine is sure to quit in the middle of an emergency trip to the hospital.
“Er….go ahead. I guess.”
Recently they have cleverly increased the tactics by introducing a computer. They take me out of my car, walk me over to the computer, and point out how IT is demonstrating with lovely colored charts and graphs all of the maintenance I am neglecting with my poor car. It is as if my mechanic is saying, “I am just a simple human that could make a mistake, but here — HERE is a computer making billions of calculations per second, and within those tiny seconds has determined that your automobile will DIE unless immediate treatment is administered, and how can you argue with a computer?”
The simple answer is that you can’t—I cough out more money.
One day, just for fun, I think I will agree to everything and see how far they are willing to go.
“Sir, you need a radiator flush.”
“Sure, go right ahead.”
“We also recommend a brake pad re-adjustment, and light replacement.”
“Knock yourself out.”
“Yep, one of those too!”
I figure the conversation would develop to the point of:
“Sir, we further recommend the Executive package, in which we remove your entire engine, power-wash it with acid, dry it with an airplane engine, and then completely replace every single part that could possibly be replaced.”
“Why not? Go ahead.”
“Oh. HEY, JIM! We got an ‘Executive’ on bay Two.” *wink, wink*
Jim would pipe up, “Good thing, too! From here I can see the right side of the car is not lined up with the left side. Better throw in a full car body alignment, or else that Executive won’t last two weeks.”
“Sir, do you have time for this?”
Having prepared in advance, I brought my sleeping back, a month’s worth of reading, and provisions to feed a camp, “Sure, go ahead.”
“Then step this way to our finance department, and we can get you all fixed up.”
Instead I dance between what to pay, what should be done, always with the hope that somehow I am money ahead by not spending too much, and getting away with a few extra miles before spending the real money. I dread that final day when he opens the hood and sighs:
“Oh, dear. Harrumph. Hmmm….”
“Be with you in a minute, sir. Just checking ‘er out.”
I see him pull out a few sticks, continue to furrow his forehead, and start consulting manuals.
“With you in a minute, sir. HEY JIM! Can you look at this?”
The shocked looked on Jim’s face is not comforting. Nor is his statement, “Wow! Never seen that before!”
Gary walks by. (I assume it is Gary, since his shirt proudly proclaims, “Gary” but no one has ever yelled out at him, and he never says a word.) Gary takes one look, pulls out a kazoo and softly plays taps. “Ta. Ta. Taaaaaa.”
They close the hood, and my mechanic approaches me, rubbing his hands on a towel.
“Try to look at it this way, sir. Don’t think of it as a loss of an automobile, but focus on the good times you had together. The drives, the laughs, the open road.”
”Yep. Time to take that final journey to the Great Crusher in the Sky.”
Many of us drive our cars around, never thinking about what needs to be maintained on them, hoping that everything under that engine is running smoothly, and occasionally taking them in for the mandatory check-up, performing the minimum amount of repair work for the maximum benefit until the next mandatory check.
I wonder if many theists do the same with their spiritual life. I see believers and non-believers working hard for promotions, trying to find the perfect mate, attempting to raise children, getting groceries, taking children to hockey, basketball, cheerleading, band and soccer. Both get up in the morning to alarm clocks, drive to work, take lunch breaks, catch a baseball game with friends, and come home to clean their house.
We all encourage our kids to do well, spend time with our families, work in the yard, and help the neighborhood paper drive.
We all look exactly alike in our ambitions, activities, and living day-to-day. We are so used to quick check-ups. Fast oil changes. Drive-though food. Those that do cook, use a microwave to get it in 3-5 minutes. If we need a safety pin, a shovel or a steam engine, we can “run right out and get it.”
What I see is the exact same human reaction to theism. Every Sunday believers attend a church for their “check-up.” Saturday they got an oil change and a transmission flush in 30 minutes. Sunday they get an attitude change and bitterness flush in the same time. And, just like that oil change only lasting for a short time, so, too the spiritual-change.
By Sunday afternoon, they have returned to looking just like me. Same problems, same resolutions, same humanity. Amazingly, we have come to expect it! Just like needing a tune-up, it is assumed that “tapping into God” only lasts so long, and eventually wears down. Need to give it a kick with a daily devotion, or a prayer, or a meeting together. Constant maintenance must be administered, or the God-power runs down like an old battery.
And it is always the human doing the jolting. The human going to church, the human reading the Bible or praying, and if the human stops—God stops. The only time God re-starts is if the human restarts. All of the impetus is on the human.
No matter how much I stay on top of keeping my car maintained, there is always something more. Being a human creation, it won’t last forever, and the only way to make it last as long as it can is by constant attention. It is the same with theism! I could pull story after story after story of people striving to “know” God, working to keep their relationship with God, working to stay out of sin, working to be more like God, and every single time it is the human performing the effort. And it always, always, ALWAYS requires a little bit more. More time. More reading. More work on the part of the human.
God is doing none of the work. Just like my car is not trying to maintain itself, and is, in fact, doing the exact opposite, God is sitting on the sidelines, forcing humans to come to him, and if they do it wrongly, or not enough, or stop, God stops. Just like my car.
“What a friend we have in Jesus.” Heard the song? Imagine if I was a friend like Jesus. I would tell you that you must do all the talking to me. I sent you a letter once, but that is all you get. You must continually work to have a relationship with me. If you stop, I won’t have a relationship with you. If you do it wrongly, I won’t be your friend. But I won’t tell you how to do it right.
If anything good happens in your life, it is because of me. If anything bad—it is your fault. You can ask me for anything, but I only provide the same things others get that aren’t my friend.
Oh, and if you aren’t my friend, I will hate you so much that I will torture you forever.
What kind of relationship is that? I wouldn’t want that out of my car, let alone a friend!
I wish theists would think about this, next time they get their oil changed. Are they doing the same thing with a God? Listening to what a human has recommended they do to maintain this relationship? And waffling between what is the minimum requirements to keep God happy, yet not have to pay with taking care of the poor, loving others, giving up of time, labor and money? If they really believed in a God, why are they doing the bare minimum to keep it? If I truly was convinced my car needed the maintenance to operate, I would (reluctantly) spend the money. Believers are willing to sacrifice for their car, but not their God.
At least with my car, if I stop repairing it, it conks out. With God, once I stopped maintaining the relationship, I recognized that I was doing all the work—there was no God. He didn’t conk out; He was never there in the first place! I didn’t need to maintain a non-existent relationship.
A car needs its human to continue to perform. So, too, a God.