A recent headline proclaimed that buying a car ranks among most people’s least favorite activity. Many would rather suffer pain or be deprived of a favorite pleasure than to have to endure the car lot and the car salesman. Recently, inevitably, it was my turn to face the pain. With our old minivan ailing and a long roadtrip looming, I had little choice in the matter. I had procrastinated as long as I could.
Now there are various strategies involved in buying cars. Some people only buy really, really used cars and drive them until they can wring out the last little vestige of value. Then they rub out the VIN, drive it into a lake, and start over. Not surprisingly, these people tend to be pretty handy, and comfortable under a hood. Other people buy only new cars, drive them until the new car smell has faded, and then swap them for something newer. As you would expect, these people tend to be pretty comfortable with their checkbook.
I hold to the philosophy of buying new and driving until the serious problems begin—maybe seven or eight years with the right brand, all the scheduled maintenance, and a little bit of luck. I hold to this position largely because I consider cars magic. They exist far beyond the boundaries of science and reason and firmly within the realm of wizardry. I have no idea how they work and live with the fear that if I touch anything beyond the gas cap, I will disrupt the sorcery and cause a total breakdown. I am in awe of them, and terrified when they begin to show signs of aging. When a hear that strange whir or unusual clunk, I just assume that the engine is about to blow. (Cars still have engines, right?) Our old car was making a lot of those whirs and clunks and related sounds. I had lost all confidence in it, so it was time to go shopping.
When Aileen and I walked into the dealership and began looking at that new van, the salesman did a great job of introducing us to this amazing new vehicle. He showed us lots of buttons and screens and described all the different ways the van would beep at us while we drove it. I am quite sure it is nearing sentience and, with a software update or two, should be able to drive itself and even parent my children. He opened the hood so we could admire the engine and I nodded dutifully, pretending that I actually had some idea of what I was looking at. I think I fooled him. “Mmm. Look at that. It’s shiny.” He didn’t notice the beads of sweat trickling down my face. “Tell me more about the beeps.”
What really impressed us about this van was its reliability. He convinced us that this vehicle is very possibly the greatest and most reliable car ever made by the hand of man. He assured us that the car would never break down, that the warranty would prove bulletproof, and that if we were simply to buy it today, all our wildest dreams would come true.
We were an easy mark, I guess, and before long he convinced us. We shook his hand and he led us into the office of the finance manager. Now, the finance manager’s job was to figure out how we intended to pay for this vehicle and to verify that we actually had a reasonable likelihood of doing so. However, it quickly became apparent that he could pick up a few commission dollars by selling us an extended warranty. Suddenly we were being told that we had just agreed to buy the worst car ever built, that it was probably going to break down before we even got it out of the parking lot, that the warranty is absolutely laughable, and that we would never sleep soundly at night unless we agreed to that third-party, $3,000 extended warranty plan. “Your life will not be worth living if you walk out of here without that extended warranty.”
I called him on it. “The salesman just told us this was the most reliable van on the market; now you’re telling me it’s a piece of junk that’s going to burst into flames if I look at it wrong. What gives?” He assured me that he was just looking out for me, that he was a friend. I assured him, in turn, that there was, literally, no chance that I was ever going to walk out of there with an extended warranty, unless, of course, he was willing to give it as a gift. Since, you know, we’re friends now.
No wonder we hate to buy cars. At least I don’t need to endure the pain again for another seven or eight years.
As we drove away in our whirring and clunking old van, hopeful that the factory would soon spit out that shiny new one for us, I found myself thinking about the contradiction between the salesman and the finance manager. I was sold on the car’s reliability, but once I was in, well, that’s where I was told the truth (or a version of it, at least).
And I realized that we, as Christians, sometimes pull this very sales trick when we preach the gospel and plead with our friends. We assure our friends that God has a great and wonderful plan for their lives, that putting their faith in him will bring endless and untold blessings. We tell of all the benefits of being a Christian. Well and good.
But when Jesus walked the earth, he was no salesman. He told those who wanted to follow him that the cost would be high. He told them that it would cost them their friends, their family, their finances, their plans, their comfort, and maybe even their lives. He told them that it would cost them everything.
No wonder that our friends are suspicious. And no wonder so many are shocked when they make a profession of faith and immediately meet with pain and mockery and deep questions and the sustained attacks of a Devil who wants them back. They were won with a sales trick—won with only half the truth. They have every right to be disillusioned.
Car lot photo credit: Shutterstock