“And They Followed Vanity and Became Vain”
I came across this wonderful statement in my reading of the book of 2 Kings. It’s the writers assessment of the nation of Israel after being conquered by Assyria and thrown headlong into exile. When I first read the words I was struck by how well constructed and poignant it was. How apt it was to be repeated. I admired its literary mastery. It’s short and compact, yet it carries a punch. It’s stated so simply, but it means so much. The truth of it is so clear, so obvious and yet unexpected. It’s startlingly obvious. It’s not like we don’t know that we become what we pursue. Or do we not know? Or as it was with Israel, is hindsight 20/20.
After my admiration wore off, I continued to consider the statement. It had a hold on me that I could not understand. Then the gravity of the context in which it was used returned to me. Vanity is not to be trifled with. Israel doesn’t simply become enamored with themselves. They don’t become a people who look longingly at themselves in the mirror. No, they became worthless, empty, and useless. And the Lord removed them from His sight. Yet their destruction can be summed up so very casually in the words; they followed, and became. How do you come to see what may seem clear only in hindsight? How does our story not end the way Israel’s story ended?
First, let me suggest that we reflect often on the nature of what we are pursuing. Sometimes I know that what I want is vain, but I want it nonetheless. I convince myself that its okay by the sheer volume of vain pursuits around me. More often than not, however, my pursuits don’t reveal themselves to be vain, and hence the need for reflection. Vanity slips easily in and out of the shadows avoiding the light of reflection.
Second, I believe we must trust the adage of the statement. We will become what we pursue. If we follow vanity we will become vain. The pursuit of vain things is not harmless. As with Israel, it leads to destruction, emptiness, and uselessness only to be removed from the Lord’s sight.
Third, we must know that vanity comes quickly. The brevity of the statement suggests that we become vain suddenly. While we are pursuing vanity, it suddenly apprehends us. And while not choosing to become vain, we find that we have become just that; vain.
Lastly, if we believe, the adage may work for us. If it is true that we become what we pursue, what could be said of us if we pursued Jesus. Would it not be just as wonderful and poignant a statement if it said, “They followed Christ and became Christian.”