The Four Substitutes to God (Part I)

By Engr. Carlos Cornejo

St. Thomas Aquinas says the four most common substitutes to God that man would “worship” in this world are wealth, fame, pleasure and power.  We humans would often think that if we could just fill ourselves a bit more of these “God substitutes” we would then finally be happy.  We are on a hunt.  The hunt does not take place in the jungles, caves or canyons. It takes place in our hearts. The beast that our heart is hunting is called happiness.

The Gospel story of the Samaritan woman fetching water in the well of Sychar illustrates to us the effort we men have of filling our hearts with the worldly water of wealth, fame, pleasure and power but would still feel thirsty.  Christ said to the Samaritan woman, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.” (John 4:13-14) In Scripture, thirst for water symbolizes man’s longing for lasting happiness.  “He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.’” (Revelation 21:6)

Likewise, the story of the showdown in Mount Carmel in the Book of Kings between the prophet Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal in a faceoff of whose God will be able to set fire the bull offering, tells us dramatically of our frantic effort of trying to satisfy our souls with the things of this world.  Our pursuits of wealth, fame, pleasure and power is represented by the futile effort of the 450 prophets in praying to their god, Baal.  The prophets were praying for hours until midday dancing and even to the point of wounding themselves for Baal to answer their prayers and set on fire their offering.   Bishop Robert Barron would say, that drug addicts could very much relate to the “wounding” of oneself which at times they literally would do, just  to get that added “high” from their habits but sadly it would still not be enough.

Elijah was taunting them, “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”  (1 Kings 18:27) But their god Baal would not answer.  And when it was Elijah’s turn to pray, he said, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.”  A metaphor that clearly demonstrates that God alone can set our hearts on fire and not the “God substitutes”.  “Take delight in the Lord, and He will grant you the desires of your heart.”  (Psalm 37:4) More on this in the next article.