The book of Isaiah is full of the glory of God, displays of the sinfulness of humanity, prophesies of Christ, and the promises of God. One of my favorite chapters is where Isaiah openly mocks the practice of idolatry in Israel. The commentary bleeds holy sarcasm. Pointed humor juts out everywhere.
Yet, before we jump too quickly jump into the “those idiots” mindset, Isaiah’s comments should cause us to pause and consider what created things we may be worshiping instead of the Creator. What do we think that we can’t live without? What do we think gives (or would give) us purpose and meaning in life? What do we spend the most time and/or money on every month? (For more on human idolatry, check out Timothy Keller’s Counterfeit Gods).
 All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame.  Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?  Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.
 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint.  The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house.  He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it.  Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it.  Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!”  And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand.  No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?”  He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
(Isaiah 44:9-20 ESV)
Free downloads of some of Timothy Keller’s sermons can now be found online. Ever since reading several of his books – Prodigal God, Counterfeit Gods, and The Reason for God – I have been seeking out audio or video sermons from Keller. The pleasure of tuning into his ministry only came through various conferences that he participated in (such as those put on by the Resurgence) until his church started posting online for free.
“A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living…It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving “face” and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry” (p xviii).
In Counterfeit Gods Timothy Keller unpacks the lives of Abraham, Jacob, Leah, Zacchaeus, Naaman, Nebuchadnezzar, and Jonah to expose the counterfeit gods hidden with the human heart. The good things that had become the best things. Then, like a skilled surgeon, he operates by pointing to Jesus Christ as the real cure for each case of idolatry. Counterfeit Gods gently brings the reader to see the hidden idols in their own heart through the stories of the men and women of the Bible. By the end of the book the reader is equipped to discern the idols in their heart and are equipped to enthrone Jesus as the rightful object of worship in their life. I give Keller’s book a solid 5 out of 5 stars.
Are we money masters or do we have money masters controlling our lives? It is one or the other. There is no neutral when it comes to money.
In his book Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller zeros in on this in his chapter Money Changes Everything. In a masterful dissection of the Almighty Dollar’s hold in a person’s heart with its various manifestations, Keller leads the reader to understand that addressing the surface issues won’t effectively kill our being mastered by money. There is something deeper at work that uses things like money to obtain its desires. It is this deep rooted issue that must be attacked. The question becomes, “How do we get rid of this deep rooted idol?” Keller offers this prescription:
This is why idols cannot be dealt with by simply eliminating surface idols like money or sex. We can look at them and say, “I need to de-emphasize this in my life. I must not let this drive me. I will stop it.” Direct appeals like this won’t work, because the deep idols have to be dealt with a the heart level. There is only one way to change at the heart level and that is through faith in the gospel (p 66).
The solution to stinginess is a reorientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, how he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to worry about money – the Cross proves God’s care for you and gives you the security. Now you don’t have to envy anyone else’s money. Jesus’s love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status – one that money cannot give you. Money cannot save you from tragedy, or give you control in a chaotic world. Only God can do that. What breaks the power of money over us is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ, what you have in him, and then living out the changes that that understanding makes in your heart – the seat of your mind, will and emotions. Faith in the gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without a complete change of heart will be superficial and fleeting (p 68).
Are we really so different from the children of Israel all those years ago? We live in a different culture and a different time and yet manage to fall into the spiritual traps:
“Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves” (Amos 5:25-26).
Here were the Children of Israel who for forty years were in the very presence of God, witnesses miraculous events, and being delivered the law of God first hand. Yet they were also carrying along their personal “secret” idols.
Are we so different. We may believe in Jesus (and I mean saving faith belief), read our Bibles, pray, go to church, have a personal relationship with our Savior & God yet also carry with us our own “secret” idols. The things that we “can’t live without”. The aspects or items of life that we strive and would give anything to attain. What are some of your secret idols?
A book I am reading dives into three potent and potential idols – money, sex, and power. Timothy Keller’s latest book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, has been a good read so far and may be well worth looking into if you would like to do some idol smashing in your life.