Sunday, December 20, 2009

More on Idols from Keller

AM SHORT ON TIME today and will have to continue this another Sunday, so I will post a quote from Tim Keller's new book on idols, Counterfeit Gods:

Idolatry distorts our feelings. Just as idols are good things turned into ultimate things, so the desires they generate become paralyzing and overwhelming. Idols generate false beliefs such as "if I cannot achieve X, then my life won't be valid" or "since I have lost or failed Y, now I can never be happy or forgiven again." These beliefs magnify ordinary disappointments and failures in to life-shattering experiences.

A young woman named Mary was an accomplished musician who once attended my church. For many years she had battled mental illness and checked in and out of psychiatric institutions. She gave me permission as her pastor to speak to her therapist so my pastoral guidance to her could be well-informed. "Mary virtually worships her parents' approval of her," her counsellor told me, "and they always wanted her to be a world-class artist. She is quite good, but she's never reached the top of her profession, and she cannot live with the idea that she has disappointed her parents." Medications helped to manage her depression, but they could not get to the root of it. Her problem was a false belief, driven by an idol.

She told herself, "If I cannot be a well-known violinist, I have let down my parents and my life is a failure." She was distressed and guilty enough to die.

When Mary began to believe the gospel, that she was saved by grace, not my musicianship, and that, "though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord shall take me in (Psalm 27:10), she began to get relief from her idolatrous need for her parent's approval. In time her depression and anxiety began to lift, and she was able to reenter her life and musical career.

There is legitimate guilt that is removed through repentance and restitution, and then there is irremediable guilt. When people say, "I know God forgives me, but I can't forgive myself," they mean that they have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to them than God's. Idols function like gods in our lives, and so if we make career or parental approval our god and we fail it, then the idol curses us in our hearts for the rest of our lives. We can't shake the sense of failure.

When idolatry is mapped onto the future---when they're threatened---it leads to paralyzing fear and anxiety. When it is mapped onto the past---when we fail our idols---it leads to irremediable guilt. When idolatry is mapped onto the present life---when our gods are blocked or removed by circumstances---it roils us with anger and despair.

Coming soon: How we discover what our idols are? I'd say there's no better time to start the search than during the Christmas season when expectations and those Norman Rockwell pictures in our minds are at their most powerful. This is why this book is more a handbook for growth than just a book.

1 comment:

Bob's Blog said...

This book sounds very much like Herbert Schlossberg's book entitled Idols for Destruction, written in the 1980s, but extremely relevant today. Merry Christmas!