Our heads grazed the low-hanging tarps as we walked through the labyrinth of market stalls. My husband and I were in Manila, Philippines, visiting colleagues who wanted to share the local wares with us. It was our first time serving at length overseas, so we were giddy when we saw NFL and NBA jerseys. Images from home. And at such low prices!
“You know they’re knockoffs,” our friends said. “They’re fakes. That’s why they’re so cheap.” Undeterred and committed to having something bearing the name of our home team, we bought a couple of jerseys. You probably already know the end: the jerseys didn’t last. It turns out knockoffs lack enduring quality. They began unraveling as soon as we unpacked our suitcases.
Since then, we’ve seen similar markets throughout Asia, Europe, and in the United States. My daughter and I recently had fun checking out fake Rolexes in New York City. There’s just something about cheap fakes—and it’s not limited to one continent or one people group. It’s the human condition. We’re all drawn to shortcuts, to bargains, to shiny products that make big promises.
Counterfeits Can’t Deliver
Fake watches and fake jerseys are relatively harmless. But the counterfeits of our age are not limited to material goods. There are countless cultural counterfeits that promise peace, meaning, and contentment. They tell us, “You can be amazing, your life will finally have real meaning, true fulfillment is found right here.”
The counterfeits of our age are not limited to material goods.
Convinced that we’ve found a fast track to the good life, like the ancient Israelites, we “spend [our] money for that which is not bread, and [our] labor for that which does not satisfy” (Isa. 55:2). We set up idols in our hearts (Ezek. 14:3) and expect them to deliver that which can only come from the Giver of life—the God who made us and saves us.
Idolatry is expecting a counterfeit to deliver what can only be wrought by the real thing. Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit Gods that idolatry occurs when we think, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure” (xviii).
Idols in Our Culture
Idolatry is as old as Adam and Eve, and it can be found wherever humans are. As Christ-followers in this age, though, we do well to study our culture to identify the specific idols in our midst. It’s good for us to uncover the hollow philosophies of our age (Col. 2:8) and turn instead to the abundant life God has for us (John 10:10).
We live in a time and place that has produced specific idols, which are uniquely destructive to women. (Men could say the same thing.) We are inundated with images of lustrous lifestyles that promise significance but prove counterfeit when we return home, unpack our suitcases, and try them on. Like the fake jerseys from the market in Manila, these idols unravel at the seams, leaving us threadbare.
There’s the idol of outward beauty. It applauds the young, the strong, and the visually pleasing, but it despises and twists true human beauty. Then there’s the idol of sex. Convinced that sex is our deepest need and highest good, we hook up over and over but never find real soul satisfaction.
The idol of abortion is in cahoots with hooking up, promising us control, choice, and self-determination. And then there’s the increasingly tenacious counterfeit of LGBT identities, promising a home to any girl wrestling with who she is and what she feels. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these idols have been wildly successful at drawing us and our sisters in. And they’ve inflicted so much harm.
Idols on the Inside
Of course, not every idol is out there—outside our Christian circles. We have them in here too. Perhaps in an effort to counter our crude age, or perhaps just because we’re sinful humans and inevitably drawn to either license or legalism, we’ve created idols out of purity, marriage, and motherhood. Unwittingly, we’ve exalted these good gifts above the Giver, thinking our goodness or identity lies in them. We can make idols out of anything—both in reckless living like the prodigal son and in moralism like his older brother (Luke 15:11–32).
Not every idol is out there—outside our Christian circles. We have them in here too. We’ve created idols out of purity, marriage, and motherhood.
Counterfeits are peddled to us on every corner. It’s so easy to purchase the cheap fake, hoping to satisfy our longings. But it will not go well for us if we don’t align ourselves with what is real—what is actually good and beautiful and true. Human well-being requires harmony with reality.
Here’s the best news for those of us who have ever purchased a fake: the heart of our Father in heaven is merciful and abounding in grace. No matter which counterfeits we have pursued, no matter which idols we have adored, our Father stands ready to offer everlasting life and deep peace to us, even before we realize we bought a lie. Even as we labor for that which does not satisfy (Isa. 55:2), our God says, “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live” (Isa. 55:2–3).
We were made for the very real, the very true, and the very good feast of the Father. So, come. As tempting as the idols of our age are, they all fall short. They will not satisfy. They are knockoffs in a market and care nothing for you soul or mine. But the Father awaits. And his feast will truly satisfy.