The Vanity

Most people appear (to me) to be walking around in vanity, foolishness, emptiness, consumed with frivolous, temporal concerns. (Ep 4:17-18) What occupies the hearts and minds of almost everyone around us will vanish like vapor in the wind. (Ja 4:14b) It will all come to nothing. (Ga 6:7-8)

This may seem harsh, but think about it: what’s left of the earthly concerns of those nameless, faceless masses of humanity who’ve been dead for 1000 years? whose careers, family and friends are all long forgotten? Except for those rare exceptions recorded for us in history, art and stories, every detail of their entire existence has completely vanished from this world. You and I will be no exception. (Ec 1:2)

We may find this troublesome, distasteful and unpleasant, to think our entire existence is pointless, and rightly so. We experience an intrinsic desire to be meaningful, to fulfill a special purpose or destiny, to be significant, to be remembered. (Ge 11:4)

But vanity carries the idea of waste, purposelessness, of being empty, void, without substance or weight. It implies a problem, that purpose or meaning has been missed or lost; an open opportunity to become significant forfeited forever. (Mt 7:23)

This instinct for meaning implies our behavior is being monitored, measured and evaluated according to an eternal, moral standard (2Co 5:10); there is divine expectation in all we do (Ec 12:14), and in that sense meaning is timeless: God will treasure His elect uniquely for all eternity (Re 2:17); He will never forget us and what we have done for Him. (He 6:10)

To find true significance then is to find it forever. (Ro 2:6-7) Our longing for purpose is only fulfilled in being remembered and acknowledged by God throughout eternity (Re 3:12): we can only have real significance in Him. (Da 12:3)

The alternative is to squander one’s life in temporal concerns (Php 3:18-19) and perpetually bear the shame of having frittered away our own eternal significance. (Da 12:2)

What we’re observing is that only the God-centered life is truly meaningful (Mt 7:24-25); only God-honoring thoughts and actions pass the test. (26-27)

Those who don’t love Jesus Christ (1Co 16:22), who err, who deviate from God’s Law as a manner of life, are trodden down by God Himself as waste, pointless and vain (Ps 119:118); in the Day of His wrath He will trample them all in His fury. (Is 63:3) There is no purpose or meaning left when we alienate ourselves from Him. (Ps 73:27)

Moment by moment, what kind of treasure are we laying up in Heaven? (Mt 6:19-21) Are we storing up gold, silver and precious stones, metaphors for godly motives and actions in this life? or is it mostly wood, hay and stubble? (1Co 3:12) What tiny little fragments, what puny remnants of our earthly existence will survive the fiery evaluation of God? (13)

Our labor in God is not in vain (1Co 15:58), but absolutely everything else is. Let’s lay up for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, laying hold of eternal life (1Ti 6:18-19), such that we’ll be remembered as eternally significant for the glory of God. (1Pe 1:7)

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3 thoughts on “The Vanity”

  1. This perspective may at first appear to be an “all or nothing” proposition, begging the question of whether to bother trying to be good at all. I can understand this sentiment, but find it shallow and unthoughtful.

    The potential for both reward and punishment is vast in both degree and duration, and God is not unjust. Just as there are levels of reward and glory in Heaven, certainly there are levels of punishment and shame in Hell. Missing the mark is not good, but closer is better.

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