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Pending, not vending: John Bytheway shares how God helps things work out … eventually

Crop image of woman buying a refreshing drink at a vending machine in Japan
Vending machines can teach us about God’s “immediately” versus “eventually.”
Kiyoshi Hijiki/Getty Images

My friend Brad Wilcox posed the question, “Is God like a vending machine that delivers the goods once the right amount has been deposited? No. We are the ones who have been bought with a price, not God” (The Continuous Conversion [Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 2013], 36).

What a great question! Is God like a vending machine? Okay, I did a good deed—where’s my reward? I went on a mission, Lord—where’s my fiancé? I got married in the temple—where’s my happy marriage? I paid my tithing—where’s my benefit?

More than just a commentary on the fact that we don’t earn our salvation by making good works deposits or making some required amount of deposits, the vending machine theory also teaches us about immediately versus eventually.

Vending machines are simple: we put something in, we get something out. Immediately. If we don’t get something out, something is very wrong. People punch and kick and tilt vending machines that don’t give them what they want immediately. Vending machines that would only offer to give you your selection eventually, after a season, or after an indefinite waiting period, would be incredibly frustrating devices, and no one would want to use them because they would never know when their order would be dispensed.

God, the gospel, the doctrine of retribution, the law of the harvest—none of these are like vending machines. There is an “eventually,” a “waiting period,” a “season,” a “by and by” inserted, and the season may be prolonged by months, years, decades, or even into the next world! And life can be incredibly frustrating during the “eventually.” We may want to punch and kick and tilt something. That’s the test in testimony, and the test of faith can only be passed with patience and with the right motives and desires for following God. …

Five Scriptures That Will Help You When Things Don’t Make Sense

Scripture One: 2 Nephi 9:20

“O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.”

Jacob, son of Lehi, shares a list of “Os and Wos” in the doctrinally rich chapter of 2 Nephi 9. It is a comfort to know that God knows what He is doing, and Jacob bears his testimony of this truth to us.

A related verse—in fact, my “fallback” verse when I don’t understand why the Creation, the Fall, and the plan of redemption had to unfold the way they did, was given by Lehi to Jacob just before he died: “But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things” (2 Nephi 2:24).

I love that verse. It’s a “when things don’t make sense, READ THIS!” verse. Sometimes I just have to remember that someone a lot smarter than I am, who knows exactly what He is doing, has put this all together. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, commenting on the circumstances of 2020, testified:

“But if there is one thing I do know, it is that this virus did not catch Heavenly Father by surprise. He did not have to muster additional battalions of angels, call emergency meetings, or divert resources from the world-creation division to handle an unexpected need” (“God Will Do Something Unimaginable,” Ensign, Nov. 2020).

He knows what is coming, He knows what He’s doing, and someone is minding the store. But there’s more. Not only does He know what He’s doing, but the reason He does everything He does is His love and concern for us! That’s next.

Scripture Two: 2 Nephi 26:23–24

“For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness. He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him.”

I love strong words in the scriptures, because they give us unshakable assurances that we can count on. That middle phrase is incredibly comforting: “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world.” We can know, therefore, that no matter what we are going through, no matter how senseless it may seem, He can help us through it and turn it into something for our ultimate good, or for the blessing of others. The Lord did not deliver Joseph Smith out of Liberty Jail in a time that Joseph wanted, but the Lord promised him, “All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7). Joseph’s ultimate good and benefit was always in mind.

Just think of some of the names of the Savior and how they all speak of His love for us: Mediator, Advocate, Intercessor, Redeemer, and more. He is the Good Shepherd, and He has laid down His life for the sheep (see John 10).

So we know He knows everything, and He does everything for our benefit, but why? What’s the ultimate design of our trials, our problems, and the crazy things that happen to us that don’t make sense? Thanks for asking. Read on.

Scripture Three: Doctrine and Covenants 58:3–4

“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.”

What intriguing phrases: “the design of your God” and the “things which shall come hereafter,” or eventually. We already know that He doesn’t do anything except for the benefit of the world, and now we know that there is a design, a purpose, an outcome, and that it is all by His design. It’s not random.

When I was a student at BYU in the 1980s, I attended a leadership meeting in the Marriott Center with elders quorum presidencies from dozens of wards on campus. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said something that day that deeply impressed me, and it found a place in my Franklin day planner (although my transcription may not be perfect):

“The macro plan of salvation is composed of individual microplans. God watches us, and manages the intersections of our lives, including the people that we meet, and when we meet them. Each of these microplans is watched over by our Heavenly Father and His remarkable Son, who, in the acme of understatement said, ‘I am able to do my work.’”

When things don’t make sense, I find comfort in the fact that God is watching over my “microplan,” and He’s watching over yours, too!

One Sunday morning, my fourteen-year-old son said, “Dad, I can never get my necktie length right.”

I replied, “Yeah, with neckties it’s a lot of trial and error.” In that moment, I heard myself describe what might be my entire life. An unending series of trials and errors.

Eventually, in the end, I hope, it turns out right. But couldn’t there have been another way for us to learn the lessons we need?

Scripture Four: Isaiah 55:8–9

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

If we did everything our way, our lives might be incredibly easy, but we would not learn, we would not stretch, and we would not become what the Lord would have us become. Shallow experiences produce shallow people, and I suppose deep experiences produce deep people.

One of my BYU religion professors, Brother Joseph Fielding McConkie, taught: “It is not the design of heaven that we be rescued from all difficult situations. Rather, it is the Lord’s will that we learn to handle them” (“Finding Answers,” Ensign, February 2011). We must trust the design and the designer. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:

“It simply will not work ‘to glide naively through life,’ saying as we sip another glass of lemonade, ‘Lord, give me all thy choicest virtues, but be certain not to give me grief, nor sorrow, nor pain, nor opposition. Please do not let anyone dislike me or betray me, and above all, do not ever let me feel forsaken by Thee or those I love. In fact, Lord, be careful to keep me from all the experiences that made Thee divine. And then, when the rough sledding by everyone else is over, please let me come and dwell with Thee, where I can boast about how similar our strengths and our characters are as I float along on my cloud of comfortable Christianity.’ My beloved brothers and sisters, Christianity is comforting, but it is often not comfortable. (“Waiting on the Lord,” Ensign, November 2020; see also Neal A. Maxwell, “Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds,” Ensign, May 1991)

Okay, it’s not going to be comfortable. Some, as we have talked about in this book, know more of discomfort than com- fort. Hang on through the uncomfortable, because on the other side of “eventually,” on the other side of “for a season,” and on the other side of the “waiting period” is something unimaginable.

Scripture Five: 1 Corinthians 2:9

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

Whatever you imagine heaven to be, however you picture eternal life, even stretching your powers of imagination to the limit, the Lord says here, “Nope. It’s better.”

Lehi gave us hope with this oft-quoted verse: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). Yes, men and women might have joy, and on other days, they might not. A similar-sounding verse, Moses 6:48, speaks of the other side of joy: “Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe.”

Sometimes we have 2 Nephi 2:25 “joy” days, and sometimes we have Moses 6:48 “misery and woe” days. That is all part of the earthly experience that makes life painfully and wonderfully interesting. When we think of life as a day, as Alma does in Alma 34:32, “the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors,” then this verse in the Psalms takes on eternal meaning: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Another eventually.

When It Doesn’t Make Sense

We are taught that actions have predictable reactions—but what do we do when those expectations fail us and life doesn’t make sense? We may ask questions like, “Why this? Why now?” and “What have I done to deserve this?” By exploring lessons from the scriptures and modern-day experiences, including the story of Job and the aftermath of the 2020 pandemic, this book examines what theologians call the “law of retribution” and how it has affected our thinking. It will show how Jesus added valuable insight into the different types of adversity that come with living in this fallen world. It will also look at contemporary issues such as modified missions, health trials, and the challenges of Church membership. With hope for the future and the assurance that there will be answers eventually, When It Doesn’t Make Sense will help you feel peace while you wait for your own “eventually.”

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