In Jesus’ story, the older son complains, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.”
I often feel like that guy. “God,” I say, “I’ve been obedient. I’ve done a pretty good job, followed the convictions you’ve given me. I’m trying now too, not perfectly, but trying at least. Where’s the benefits?”
It’s easy to be mad at God when I feel like I’ve held up my end of the bargain and don’t get the rewards I think I deserve. I think sometimes the church has taught me to expect those rewards, but that’s only because it’s human nature to want to believe it works that way: to believe that God rewards those who obey.
Of course, Job refutes all that. God makes it pretty clear that there’s not much of a cause-effect relationship between obedience and benefits. If there was, then God would be a vending machine. We’d be obeying and manipulating God to get what we want, and we would make it all about us.
Sure, you can say, “Well, they’re eternal benefits, not immediate,” and maybe that helps some of the time, but it doesn’t help all the time, or even most of the time. So we obey and wait, obey and wait.
And I guess that’s the way it has to be: Because if God were a vending machine and we made it all about making ourselves happy, then we make ourselves God and the whole thing falls to pieces.
I guess, if obeying for the bennies is our motive, then it’s probably all fallen to pieces anyway. God is only God if we don’t mechanically get what we want for doing what we’re told.
(But God’s cool ’cause he’s made it so that doing what we’re told is actually good for us. Maybe we’ve just defined “benefits” in the wrong terms.)