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October 29th, 2009

 “You shall have no other gods before me.”  It’s the first commandment. 

But what does it mean in an age when we don’t carve wood or shape metal into idols that we bow down in front of, deluding ourselves into thinking they are our sponsors to whom we pray for protection, provision, and meaning?

We don’t really worship “other gods” today, do we?  In his new book, Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller says we do.

Keller quotes a seventeenth century English pastor who said of idolatry, “Though few will own it, nothing is more common.”  False gods are not only common, they require lifelong vigilance and persistence.  In other words, we never permanently solve the problem of counterfeit gods.  But we can never give up, either.

How  do we discern our idols?  On pages 168-169, Keller gives four suggestions of areas to examine –

·         Your imagination.  “The true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.”

·         How you spend your money.  “The mark of an idol is that you spend too much money on it, and you must try to exercise self-control constantly.”

·         Your unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes.  “When you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.”

·         Your most uncontrollable emotions.  “If you are angry, ask, ‘Is there something here too important to me, something I must have at all costs?’  Do the same thing with strong fear or despair and guilt.”

That’s from the epilogue.  For most of the book, Keller weaves well-known stories of biblical characters (Jacob, Nebuchadnezzar, Jonah, and others) with descriptions of what idolatry looks like in our world.  An idol is anything we love, trust, and obey (Preface, p. xxi).    We serve personal idols (love, family, money), cultural idols (technology, prosperity), intellectual idols (ideologies, political loyalties), vocational idols (profit, self-expression).

What’s wrong with idols, anyway?  The most obvious answer, perhaps, goes back to that first commandment.  Our counterfeit gods disobey God’s first commandment.

But why is that command first?  Because our desire to serve gods who give immediate and tangible gratification destroys us. 

Keller’s book was published on the heels of the worldwide financial implosion of 2008-2009.  He reminds us that when we serve the gods of money, power, and success (to name a few), we often find temporary and illusory security.  But ultimately those gods will not only fail us – they will enslave us, disillusion us, and ruin us.

Timothy Keller’s latest book is worth your time.  It will cause you to think deeply about the gods you serve with your life, regardless of what you profess with your mouth.

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

3 Responses to Counterfeit Gods »

  • UnusuallyQuiet says:

    This blog post should be filed under EU.
    Could you start rating your blog post in the titles please so your readers know which pillow to sit on prior to reading?

    MBB – Mild Butt Burner
    VWBB – Very Warm Butt Burner
    EUBB – Extremely Uncomfortable Butt Burner

  • bob says:

    You have a great way with words! And a great idea. Maybe every sermon should be similarly coded.

  • UnusuallyQuiet says:

    Thinking it would be better if I had kept my blog post name super secret instead of outing myself in an earlier post.

    It served me well for many years but it is time for a funeral.

    Singing I’ll fly away as I delete it……

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