The Town Called Vanity

I’m a little further along in my reading of Pilgrim’s Progress. Again, it’s hard to mark my headway in a book without chapters, but there is forward movement nevertheless.

Christian and Faithful are about to enter the Town of Vanity, wherein is a year-round carnival known as Vanity Fair. How’d it get there? Well, at one point in time, according to Bunyan, two pilgrims were making their way to the Celestial City, and Beelzebub, Apollyon and Legion observed them making their way through Vanity. They decided, as a greater snare to pilgrims, they should set up Vanity Fair in this place in order to keep men from reaching the city with the offerings of worldly things, things that are, in the end, vanity. Here’s what Bunyan says they sell at Vanity Fair (note: list not exhaustive):

Therefore a this fair are all such merchandises\ sold, as houses, lands trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious sones, and what not.

Bunyan, John. Pilgrim’s Progress. Dodd, Mead and Co. Inc., 1979, p. 86.

Some of those things I would expect a Puritan man to list amongst vanity, but it was a little surprising to see things like homes, husbands, wives, and children there too.  I get the feeling  some small group leaders reading this book have had to answer for that one (unless the readers weren’t paying attention). Are they vanity?  Ecclesiastes calls everything vanity; is that the case with family?

Here’s how I want to answer that question, and how I want to reflect on what Bunyan calls vain: yes.  Absolutely.

“Wait, Patrick,” you may think.  “You’re married!  Are you saying your marriage is nothing but vanity?”  Yes, yes I am.  Why?   Because this entire world is vanity in that it is finite and temporal.  This is something that Christians worldwide eventually have to wrestle with: your life here on Earth will end, and when you stand before the One, he will NOT care about the cost of your house, or your hot wife, or your 2.3 kids, or the Lexus you drove. It is meaningless!  All of it!

Hear me thoroughly here: I love my wife.  I want kids in due time.  A nice house is negotiable.  However, none of these things measure up to my service to the living God. The  apostle Paul, whom I find myself referencing quite frequently, had a long, long list of things he could boast about (being circumcised, bona fide Jew, Roman citizenship, etc.) and counted them all as rubbish as he took his life and laid it down in service to God.  As I serve God, I learn more about how little it means to be married (though I once desired it greatly) for cultural expectations as it does to reflect the unity of God and the church through your marriage. I learn how the paycheck I earn, the apartment I rent, the laptop I blog with, are not, in fact, mine, but are tools entrusted to my management by a God who owns all things.  In the service of God is where material things lose their lustful shine and gain a usefulness only God could make.

I am excited now to see what Christian and Faithful will encounter in Vanity Fair.  I only hope that, as I read, the things that are vanity in my life can either be removed or utilized in the service of the living God.

What about you?  What is vanity in your life?  How has God changed you to see what is truly important?

Unrelated note: to my Reformed readers, here’s a great site where you can read how Martin Luther insulted people.  Pretty funny, I think.

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One thought on “The Town Called Vanity

  1. Where do I begin with my list of vanities? I believe you have inspired me to write a piece on this because I have too much to say in a comment. I’ll just briefly give you the first three: my kids, without a doubt. They are second only to God; I thrive on my love for them and theirs for me. Second, my appearance especially as I age. I grew up feeling ugly and fat; I prefer feeling pretty and thin. Third, it’s important to me that people know I am not a shallow, unthinking person. Now, these are my vanities, not necessarily my priorities. God has worked in my life to develop humility, perseverance, gratitude, and joy in ways too many to describe here. I am conscious of them every day of my life.

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