I have just finished Tim Keller’s Counterfeit God’s and found it to be very thought provoking and challenging in many ways. It is about idolatry. But if you are like me you don’t exactly have little statues of pagan deities set up around your home. However, what Keller writes about is so much more. He defines an idol as being “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” (pg xx). With a definition like this, we realize that perhaps we have more idols in our lives than we would like to admit and Keller spends considerable time looking at things like money, success and even love. The concern is that God commands, and has designed, us to live with Him in the top priority place in our lives. Anything else is idolatry and will result in us not being all that God designed us to be relationally or spiritually.
In the epilogue (pages 165-177), Keller lays out four thoughts/questions that are designed to help the reader, discern the idols in our own lives. I am still pondering what it means for me, but wanted to share it with my readers in case it might be helpful for you as well.
The first way that Keller suggests that we identify idols in our lives us to look at our imagination. He writes, “The true God of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.” And he asks, “…what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?”
The second thing that Keller suggests is to ask about how you spend your money. He writes, “Your money flows most effortlessly toward your heart’s greatest love. In fact, the mark of an idol is that you spend too much money on it, and you must try to exercise self-control constantly.” I think that it is important to note how Keller phrases what he writes. I don’t think he is simply talking about where the majority of your income goes to (i.e. rent, hydro, groceries), although I suppose it could. Rather he is suggesting that we look to where our money seems to disappear to and where we struggle to rein in our spending.
The third identifier that Keller suggests is for those who would profess faith in God. He asks, “… what is your real, daily functional salvation? What are you really living for…?” Indeed many of us struggle with placing our trust in things that are not God and relying on those things in order to give us happiness, satisfaction and security. “A good way to discern this is how you respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes.” When we are faced with unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes, where do we go? What do we lean on? How do we react? Perhaps here is an idol that we have given the place of God in our lives.
The final test that Keller lays out looks at our uncontrollable emotions. Keller writes, “…look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong.”
I know that I am working through these questions, and will hopefully do so for the rest of my life, but I would hate to end this post like this. Idolatry is putting something in our lives in the place that God should be. But Keller is careful to note that if we uproot an idol and fail to replace it with Christ, then the idol will grow back. Indeed this is where spiritual disciplines are important. Because they focus our hearts on the love of Christ and are an instrument of the Holy Spirit to reshape the deepest aspects of who we are and what we rely on.
Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope