If God did not exist, I would be an atheist rather than an idolator. I would not want to set up a false God of my own making, which is an idol. Such idols consume those who worship them, and do not return anything that meets the amount of devotion we would spend worshiping them. Yet, I cannot avoid setting up idols.
John Calvin wrote about this in The Institutions of the Christian Religion. After reviewing the origins of idol making among humans, he concluded, "...the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols..." He went on to note,
"The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labors under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. That idolatry has its origin in the idea which men have, that God is not present with them unless his presence is carnally exhibited...
- Calvin, John (2008-04-03). Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter XI (Kindle Locations 1963-1966). Signalman Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Indeed, this reminds me of the passage in Isaiah chapter 44 verses 14-20 describing those who make idols:
"He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
"They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, 'Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?' He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
- Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Kindle Locations 28816-28821). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.
Certainly, we have progressed beyond those days of making wood idols. Have we not progressed beyond such "primitive" thinking? I may try to fool myself and think that I am too intelligent to make an idol out of wood, but as Tim Keller notes in his book, Counterfeit Gods,
"What is an idol? It is 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.
"A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living"
- "Introduction: The Idol Factory," p. xvii - xviii, 2009, Dutton/Penguin Group (U.S.A.) Inc.
So much for my self-righteousness and pride. I am an idol maker! Indeed, I am a 21st century idol maker in that I have replaced idols of wood with modern idols of ambition, pride, lust, and many other vices.
What this adds up to is this: my desire to make idols out of material or immaterial things points to a need in my heart to worship the true God. However, at the same time I also have a will that rebels against the true God. So, I resort to making idols, and become a hypocrite.
As I noted, above, if God did not exist, I would be an atheist. I would not want to set up a false God of my own making. Yet, even if I do not believe in God, I still set up idols of various sorts. Some of my idols are good such as family, work, and the like. Some idols are vices. All of my idols consume me, thus, revealing their false nature.
My only escape from such idols is worshiping the true God. How can I know the true God? John tells us,
"No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known"
- John chapter 1 verse 18. Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Kindle Locations 41828-41830). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.
This is the man we call Jesus, who was fully man and fully God at the same time. He is my escape from idols, for if I worship Him, I worship the true God.