Tim Keller in his work, Counterfeit gods, along with Kyle Idleman in his latest work, gods at War, engage in the topic of idolatry. Idols are in essence counterfeit gods that take the preeminent place of the Triune God revealed in Holy Scripture. As I was thinking about this whole idea of idolatry, particular the counterfeit nature of idols or gods, I remembers the movie, Catch Me if You Can. Maybe you recall the movie— starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio—which was based upon the biographical sketch of Frank Abagnale, a teenage con artist who posed as a Pan America pilot, a Georgia doctor, and a Louisiana parish prosecutor. He primarily made his money by forging fake checks. In this movie, we see that counterfeits are created by the created, are created for a selfish purpose, they lead to destruction, and they can be overcome. I believe the plot line of this movie presents some similarities for people in understanding the nature, purpose, and consequences of counterfeit gods, as well as how they can be overcome—or at least how one can be delivered from their dominating grip.
First, counterfeit gods are by nature created by the created. In other words, those who have been created create them. A Jeep commercial’s slogan highlights this when it quotes, “The things we make, make us.” Thus, the nature of counterfeit gods is that they are created by man—whether they be a philosophy, religion, product, game, a political system or party, a sexual experience, a monetary system, drugs, substances, etc.—in which they become man’s fixation to the point man preeminently worships the created rather than the Creator.
Second, what is the purpose of counterfeit gods? Essentially counterfeit gods are created to satisfy an individual. The seduction and temptation of the serpent to Eve expresses that the offering of counterfeit gods lies at the false promise they can do something the Creator cannot; or they provide something that the Creator for some reason has hid from the created. In the end, counterfeit gods are created to offer meaning, or an escape from something, or an avenue by which we can crave our desire(s). Frank Abagnale accentuates this point. The movie paints him as a troubled teenager that used counterfeiting as a way to run away from a dysfunctional divorced family. In addition, it satisfied his desire to be important, to live a life of luxury—something his father had, then lost. Eventually counterfeiting and falsifying his vocation became his vocation—his meaning to life.
Thus, counterfeit gods become our fixation in order to help bring meaning in our life, escape something in our life, numb a pain present in our life, or satisfy an insatiable desire in our life. However, as seen in the movie, as well as in real life, counterfeit gods have a shelf life. In other words they are like pain medicine—the affects are only temporary. Just as Abagnale had to continue to forge fake checks, so too people who run to counterfeit gods for meaning, an escape, a numbing, or a fix will continue to return to them over and over and over. Sometimes, people may think that a particular counterfeit god becomes defective and thus turns to another counterfeit god, only to find it too is defective. Thus they continue this cyclical lifestyle—always trying new counterfeits, but never finding true meaning, fulfillment, and satisfaction.
Because counterfeit gods carry a shelf life, they consume and control our life; many times leading to self-destructive behavior that hurts the individual as well as those around them. Catch Me if You Can reveals the destructive nature of Abagnale’s counterfeiting escapade. His actions hurt businesses, abused relationships, and left him lonely, unfulfilled, and guilty. The counterfeit gods of power, sex, money, substances, self-absorbed religions, philosophies, and ideologies leaves one in a self-destructive vulnerable position in which they potentially can cause grave harm to themselves and others (see the history of self-centered civilizations). Because the use, implementation, and worship of counterfeit gods are selfish and are thus consumed by and for the individual, counterfeit gods inevitable raise the individual to the place of God. And when fallen, sinful, depraved humanity sits in the place of the holy divine, consuming the created for personal enjoyment, satisfaction, and fulfillment, nothing good can result for the betterment, or common good of others (see King David and his sin with Bathsheba).
Last, while I have described the nature, purpose, and destruction of counterfeit gods, which is certainly negative, there is, nevertheless, hope. Deliverance and redemption from a life of counterfeiting and consuming counterfeit gods is available. For Frank Abagnale deliverance and redemption became available when he owned up to the sin and destructiveness of his actions, behavior, and even his lifestyle. After Frank gives himself up, he is sentenced to 12 years in prison. While in prison, Abagnale aids Carl, the FBI agent, by pointing out how one of the checks Carl is carrying is counterfeit. Long story short, Carl works for the release of Abagnale so he can help the FBI in the counterfeit division. The ending credits of the movie reveal that Frank has been happily married for 26 years, has three sons, lives in the Midwest, is still good friends with Carl, has caught some of the world’s most elusive money forgers, and earns millions of dollars each year because of his work creating unforgeable checks. Talk about deliverance and redemption!
When it comes to the elusive career of humanity in forging counterfeit gods that overpromise and under-deliver, and which cause great destruction in our life as well as those around us, there is one who promises deliverance and redemption. There is one who works for our deliverance and release of the counterfeit prison. Jesus, the conquering and liberating King of Glory has come to take all of the destruction of the counterfeit gods of our life and of this world on himself, burying them; in addition he takes upon himself all our sin and brokenness which has resulted from our counterfeit lifestyle, delivering and redeeming us to be used for his mission in the world—the proclamation and demonstration of his redemptive and restorative kingdom.
Our lives have been created by the Triune God with the purpose of relating to him in an intimate vibrant relationship, and reflecting his glory throughout the entire created world by embodying his characteristics and attributes, which happen as a result of him being the center of our life. Since we have been created by God and for God, man is most satisfied and fulfilled in life when God is the center. As John Piper accentuates, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Counterfeit gods, which are created by man, for man’s self-centered use, take the place of the Triune God of the universe and results in nothing good for self, for others, and especially God’s glory and purpose in the world. We must ask God to give us discernment in locating the counterfeit gods in our life, as well as his power to deliver and redeem us from the destructive, guilty, and lonely grip that counterfeit gods have on our lives. So while counterfeit gods may taunt the phrase, “catch me if you can,” God responds with the cross and declares, “Not only will I catch you, I will bury you and replace you with my supremacy, my glory, my mercy, my grace, and my redemptive, transformative, unconditional love.” Have we allowed God to catch, bury, deliver, redeem, and replace the counterfeit gods of our life?