Sunday, December 13, 2009

Keller: More on Idolatry

CANNOT STRESS how much I value Tim Keller's new book, Counterfeit Gods, The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. It's memorable not just because of the fascinating Bible stories from Jonah to Jacob to Naaman and Nebuchadnezzar (each high-lighting a different form of human idolatry and how God deals with it) and religious poignancy that Keller brings so crisply and clearly alive in its pages. Rather, it's because I consider it a mighty and indispensable companion for growth and maturity for any Christian taking the arduous spiritual journey back to the likeness of and redemption by Christ Jesus. Perhaps it's the best book---or should I say handbook--- of its kind I've ever seen.

As textbook for true and enduring change, it's not a book to be read once and discarded. Rather it can be read, re-read and accompany each of us in prayer, therapy---wish I'd had this perspective 20 years ago though I might not have been ready for it--- and go through trials and tribulations and the inevitable relationship difficulties that plague us.

For me, it's the mother lode of psychological and spiritual direction and plunges me deeply into the roots of my sin and suffering. Want to know why bad things happen to good people? Look no further as Keller shows how 'good' people make good things into ultimate meaning and then sooner or later suffer hellish consequences from putting them in the place of God.

I've said it before, this is not the prosperity gospel of health, wealth, happiness and getting all our wishes gratified in ten easy steps. It's not a recipe for a quick fix. To the contrary, the book undoes our wish mentality and sets us on the difficult path towards the only real hope that can sustain us----a living relationship with God The Father and His Son Jesus Christ.

Idolatry in all its infinite forms blocks, distorts and distances us from the Grace of God. And only by beginning to identify, then dismantle our idols can we come back into right relationship with God first and then each other and the outside world.

According to Keller, idols (materialism, power, romance, family, group, work, our moral performance and good works) can distort our thinking and emotions and blind us to ultimate reality. In speaking of idolatry and its effects on our lives, he writes,

Idolatry distorted Jonah's thinking. He goes on a tirade that most people would think insane. How could Jonah be furious that God is a God of compassion and love and patience?! For the same reason that lovesick Jacob could be so easily dupeed and greedy Zachaeus (the tax collector) could betray his country and everyone around him. They were all blinded by their idols.

When an idol gets a grip on your heart, it spins out a whole set of false definitions of success and failure and happiness and sadness. It redifines reality in terms of itself. Nearly everyone thnks that an all-powerful God of love, patience and compassion is a good thing. But it, because of your idol, your ultimate good is the power and status of your people, then anything that gets in the way of it, is by definition, bad.....

In the end idols can make it possible to call eveil good and good evil.

More next week.

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