I’m reading a book by Timothy Keller called Counterfeit Gods, and I am being challenged in my thinking, I hope what is said will stimulate you to think about this as well.
To contemporary people the word idolatry brings up the Biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The book of Acts also contains vivid descriptions of the cultures of the ancient Greco-Roman world. When Paul went to Athens he saw that it was literally filled with these images (Acts 17:16).
Our contemporary society is not fundamentally different from these ancient ones. Each culture is dominated by its own set of idols. Each one has its shrines – whether office towers, spas and gyms, studios and stadiums – where sacrifices must be made in order to procure the blessings of the good life and ward off disaster. We may not physically kneel before a statue, but when climbing the corporate ladder replaces the importance of being a father and a husband and when obsessing over trying to look like the current supermodel we perform the same ritual that people in Paul’s time did.
So many people are concerned with the vertical ladder of success that they disregard the horizontal relationships of spouses, friends and family. They sacrifice everything to the god of success, but find out in the end that it was never enough. In ancient times the deities were bloodthirsty and hard to appease. They still are.
When we begin to recover, we ask, “What were we thinking? How could we have been so blind?” We wake up like people with a hangover who can hardly remember the night before. Why do we act so irrationally? Why did we completely lose sight of what is right?
The Bible’s answer is that our human heart is an “idol factory”. It’s more than literal statues as in ancient times, and it’s more than the creation of a phenomenon by Simon Cowell. In Ezekiel 14:3 God says about the elders of Israel, “These men have set up their idols in their hearts.” God is saying that we take good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.
In his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien writes a terrific story of the power that the ring has over people. It corrupts anyone who tries to use it, however good his or her intentions seem to be. It takes the heart’s fondest desires and magnifies them to idolatrous proportions. The Ring makes people willing to do anything to achieve what they set out to do. It turns the good thing into an absolute that overturns every other allegiance or value. The wearer of the Ring becomes increasingly enslaved and addicted to it, for an idol is something we cannot live without. We must have it, and therefore it drives us to break rules we once honored, to harm others and even ourselves in order to get it. Idols are spiritual addictions that lead to terrible evil, in Tolkien’s world and in real life.
In Exodus 20, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. The very first commandment in verse three is “I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before Me.” What are those “other gods”? In verses four and five God says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them…” If I’m reading this right, then ANYTHING can be an idol, a God alternative, a counterfeit god. The very things upon which people build all their happiness turns to dust in their hands because they had built all their happiness upon them. A good thing among many was turned into a supreme thing, so that its demands overrode all competing values. Counterfeit gods always disappoint, and often destructively so. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.
Until next time...