I came across a quote from Timothy Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods while doing some Bible study. I’m not sure now what that quote said, but it impressed me enough to get Keller’s book from the library.
I have often heard in sermons that idols are not just statues of gods that people bow down to, but anything that takes first place in our lives instead of God. Money is often given as an example of something that can become an idol. But while that makes sense in the abstract, it is difficult to identify specific examples in people’s lives where something has become an idol, except in some more extreme cases.
Keller provides a definition of an idol, or a “counterfeit god” as he calls often it, that is clearer to me. “A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” Or, even clearer: “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.'”
Keller goes on to use various Bible stories to illustrate ways that people make an idol of children, romantic love, money, success, or political power. I’m not sure I agree with his interpretation of these Bible stories in every case, but he provides a new way of looking at some of them and of relating them to modern life.
Finally, he suggests ways we can identify the idols in our own lives. He suggests that we ask ourselves
What do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?
- How do you spend your money?
- How do you respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes?
- What are your most uncontrollable emotions?
I might have preferred that he spend more than the last five or so pages discussing how to replace idols with Christ. But the book, after all, is about “counterfeit gods,” not about how to know and worship the one true God. People have to recognize the counterfeits before they can turn from those to the truth, and there are certainly abundant resources out there for people who want to know God better.