Veruca Salt is a character in the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and the subsequent movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The story is about an eccentric chocolate factory owner who wants to find a successor to run his company. He decides to open the doors of his factory to five children and their parents with the hopes of finding, among those children, someone who is worthy to replace him.
Veruca, accompanied by her wealthy father, is one of those lucky children. Veruca’s fatal flaw in the story is that she has no regard for other people’s possessions or for her parent’s money. Throughout the story, she compulsively asks for any and everything. And for the most part, her father attempts to comply with her desires.
Eventually, the group of kids reach a room where Veruca, who is unable to curb her selfish tendencies, interferes with the process of animals preparing ingredients for candy. She is eventually dumped into a garbage chute and is unceremoniously kicked out of the factory. Before she is ejected from the premises, Veruca sings a song appropriately called “I Want It Now.”
Have you ever met a Veruca Salt in real life? A person who thinks that the world revolves around them and everyone in the world exists to make them happy or to fulfill their needs? I imagine we all have. If you have not, you are likely the Veruca Salt in your sphere of friends.
I understand that exploring the idea of selfishness is a sticky subject. No one wants to have someone point out their sins. Sin is the concept of missing the mark. If a basketball player or soccer player shoots at the goal and misses, they have missed what they were aiming for. Sin is like this. But that is not the end of the idea. It also incorporates the concept of going in one direction but getting sidetracked and going off course, like a driver that swerves off a road and crashes. They started off going in one direction, but ended up in a direction that was not intended.
The idea of sin is present in Psalm 36. In verses 1-4, the psalmist points out that because the sinner does not know God or understand God’s thinking and standards, they are comfortable with doing whatever they want to whomever they want no matter how it affects other people. In verses 5-10, the psalmist contrasts these selfish types of actions mentioned in verses 1-4 against the motives and actions of God. Where people’s actions are selfish, God’s actions are sacrificial and done in love for God’s creation. God’s actions give us both physical and spiritual light and meaning.
Today, the definition of right and wrong depends on who is providing the definition. Veruca Salt and her parents would have said that it was right for them to spoil their daughter and for them to give her the desires of her heart.
Charlie, the eventual hero of the story, was the only child who understood that selfishness wasn’t the best route and that life was about more than just getting what he wanted. Charlie eventually said, “We are all a great deal luckier than we realize — we usually get what we want — or near enough.”
May we all remember that through God’s grace and mercy, we receive more than enough.
Terrell Carter is assistant professor and director of contextualized learning at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas, and pastor of Webster Groves Baptist Church in Webster Groves, Mo.