I think most of us would see that picture as absurd. amirite? (That's "Am I right?" in 'internet')
But, I think that so many of us have this exact theology in our minds in how we view God's interaction with us.
We may not exactly think that Jesus is putting us over his knee and spanking us because we whacked a beehive with a stick. But is believing that God punishes us physically for our bad choices so different from the idea of God rewarding us for our good choices?
If it works one way, it has to work the other way. If we reduce God down as some sort of formula or equation the inverse of that equation must also be true!
How is it that we can proclaim that God does not dole out physical punishment due to our unfaithfulness while at the same time proclaiming that God rewards us in physical/earthly ways for our faithfulness?
We wrap this language around all kinds of things
- God will increase our ministry if we're seeking after his will
- God will give us happiness if we find our specific role or purpose
- When we follow God's principles for living our lives, we'll be more successful
- God blesses us for our tithing/giving
- He'll give us more if we're good stewards of his financial resources
So, either both of those theologies (which are really just 1 theology) are correct....or....both of them are wrong.
I say they're wrong. Either way we go, we take a certain behavior and state that if we perform it, we are then deserving of what God does in response to it. We perform, we deserve, God acts. This is entirely opposite of the central over-arching message of the Bible--of God acting, humanity not deserving it, and then our reaction to it.
Jesus is not some version of an eternal food pellet machine. We don't pull the lever/work the machine in the right way and get the prescribed result....and if we work the machine the wrong way, we get an electric shock. That's bullcrap.
I personally find theologies that reduce God to a formula or series of if/then statements to be insulting. Insulting to people who are trying to follow God, and incredibly insulting to God himself.
It certainly makes the death of Jesus completely meaningless if we try to create a new law for living our lives. And that's all that a reward/punishment system is at its very core.