Hire a goldsmith, and he makes (a god); then they fall down and worship! — Isaiah 46.6
Because modernism has largely done away with physical representations of deities, it is far more difficult to identify the idols which pursue our hearts each day. As I’ve written, a culture’s idols are revealed by what it pours the most energy and resources into. Ancient cultures built structures that survived millennia; U.S. investment portfolios designed around the 7 deadly sins outperform the S&P 500 every quarter.
Yet our idols are not always sins like lust and anger. Timothy Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, explains, “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshiping.”
The greatest sign of idolatry is its churn. Pursuit after pursuit proves insufficient. Jobs come and go; markets crash; lovers disappoint; things once counted on fall through. It’s not the pressure of modern culture, it’s the result of our heart’s natural path to seek fulfillment in things outside God. In his observations of 19th century America, Alexis De Tocqueville recorded:
Sixty years is too brief a compass for man’s imagination. The incomplete joys of this world can never satisfy his heart.
The fulfilling life we long for isn’t found in our pursuits, but as a result of our ability to prune such things from sapping our time and energy. Only then can we fully pour ourselves into, and receive everything we need from, the one true source of life. Dr. Keller concludes:
Idolatry is not just a failure to obey God, it is a setting of the whole heart on something besides God. This cannot be remedied only by repenting that you have an idol, or using willpower to try to live differently. Turning from idols is not less than these two things, but it is far more.
“Setting the mind and heart on things above” where “your life is hid with Christ in God” means appreciation, rejoicing, and resting in what Jesus has done for you. It entails joyful worship, a sense of God’s reality in prayer.
Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace your counterfeit gods. If you uproot the idol and fail to “plant” the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.