Where Do God Substitutes Lead?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In a recent post, we discussed the fact that whenever a person makes something or someone their highest love in place of God, divisiveness occurs.  Tim Keller, in stark fashion, also shows us what the other negative effects of placing our faith in these God substitutes can be.  Here is an extended excerpt from The Reason for God:

  • If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person’s problems will be overwhelming to you.
  • If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.
  • If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.
  • If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.
  • If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the “escape strategies” by which you avoid the hardness of life.
  • If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.
  • If you center your life and identity on a “noble cause,” you will divide the world into “good” and “bad” and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.
  • If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.
  • Anonymous

    I disagree with many of these characterizations — I know many people who are devoted to their work, a good cause, and/or their families (you don’t have to choose just one of these) who are kind, well-balanced and happy — but mostly I am surprised that this sort of stuff would even be a relevant consideration. The truth does not depend on what makes your life the most pleasant. I base my beliefs on what I have good reason to believe is actually true, and *that’s* my real reason for not “making God my highest love.” I can’t love something that I don’t believe exists … even if the alternative will sometimes involve jealousy, resentment, or pain.

  • Matt

    What this post shows is that not one of these things nor any combination of these things can function as a substitute for the highest good in a person’s life. I think the key word in each of these statements is “identity.” Who are you without your spouse, whether she dies or leaves you? Who are you if your whole family is taken from you, or if all your kids have serious birth defects? … As atheist, how do you feel about theists? If an Atheist majority dominated a small outspoken group of theists or vice-versa, how would you relate to them. You can think of the best and worst situations for each category and if you are not the same person on both ends of the spectrum, then you have (to some degree) placed your identity there. I don’t expect anyone to be completely unaffected by any of these, that’s just who we are as humans.

  • Boz

    Does Tim Keller provide arguments or evidence on behalf of these assertions?


    Bill Pratt, I have noticed a trend with these Tim Keller posts. There is a quote of Tim Keller asserting that X is true. But there are no reasons/arguments/evidence given to accept that X is true. Why should I believe X?

  • Bill Pratt

    Not every post I write is a structured argument aimed at persuading those who disagree with me. Some of the posts are simply passing along wisdom that I’ve discovered while reading books, listening to podcasts, etc.