Recently I’ve been reading a great book by Tim Keller called Counterfeit Gods. I highly recommend it.
It’s gotten me thinking about all kinds of idols that we manage to make for ourselves. Money can become an idol. Or success. Or a political ideology. Or romantic love. But the book got me thinking especially about one idol Keller doesn’t talk about all that much: our families—or maybe specifically our kids.
Our kids?!! How can that be? Well, Keller defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” (Counterfeit Gods, p. xvii) Hmm . . .
It’s food for thought, you must admit. Of course none of us would say out loud that we love our kids more than God. But what do our lives say? What do our thoughts say? Our worries? Our obsessions? Our preoccupations? Our discipline?
A terrifying verse from Scripture comes to mind. When the Old Testament priest Eli was confronted about his tragic negligence regarding the raising and conduct of his sons, God said to Eli, “ Why do you honor your sons more than me . . . ?” (I Samuel 2:29b)
“Why do you honor your sons more than me?” It’s a haunting question. A question that has pierced my parental heart over the years. I would think of it from time to time when grappling with a particular discipline problem. I didn’t like seeing my kids in pain of any kind—or sad, or disappointed, or mad as could be at me. But sometimes honoring God by disciplining them in a loving, Godly way meant that my kids wouldn’t be all that happy, for the moment anyway.
And how about my priorities? My choices about activities, about sports, about how we spend our time or our money?
Wait a minute, you may be thinking. Doesn’t God give us our kids? Doesn’t He want us to love them with everything we are and have? Well, yes, to a point. But let’s not get confused. It’s the Lord our God we are told to love with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And after that, our neighbor. Starting at home, I would say. But let’s not confuse our kids with God!
It’s really a question of what—or Who—comes first, isn’t it? Naturally when you’re raising babies and toddlers, your mom-job with them will absorb huge chunks of your time—much, if not most, of your life, in fact. But will those kids become your life? In the big picture (not just a snapshot of one moment or another of your day), will they absorb so much of you that there is nothing left for your husband? Or for God? Will they become your ultimate source of worth and value, so that you feel personally responsible (and perhaps guilty) for every choice or decision they make even as adults?
“Idols are good things turned into ultimate things,” Keller reminds us (p. 148). It’s a question of alignment. Of what (or Whom) we worship. When God is truly first in our lives, our other relationships fall into much healthier alignment. Children raised in a home where God is first and their parents’ marriage second tend to be much healthier children (for those of you who are married—but this in no way discounts the potential effectiveness of Godly single moms). Children who themselves become objects of their mother’s worship grow up with a distorted view of themselves, of others—and most tragically, of God.
One last thought from Keller: Borrowing from Alexis de Tocqueville’s long-ago observations on Americans’ “strange melancholy,” I believe—Keller says that idolatry involves taking some “incomplete joy of this world” and building your life on it.
Oh, what joy our children can bring us (sometimes . . . see previous blog post). But even at best it’s an incomplete joy. Only God brings ultimate Joy. Building our lives on Him will make for much stronger family-building in the end!