Vanity of Vanities. All is Vanity!

By Edward Thal /

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit (King Solomon: Ecclesiastes)

Vanity—narcissism—is the unbridled spirit of the age. Humanity has banished God and enthroned itself; moral and emotional infants have granted themselves the keys to the kingdom. The result is plainly evident to anyone who has eyes to see, but most are willfully blind. Surely, we cannot much longer endure in this state?

Writing over 70 years ago the brilliant German-Swiss theologian Karl Barth lamented that we permit ourselves to reckon with God as if this were not extraordinary behavior on our part. We dare to deck ourselves out as His companions, patrons, advisers and commissioners […] Secretly we are the masters in this relationship. We are not concerned with God, but with our own requirements, to which God must adjust Himself. God is not acknowledged as God: what is called “God” is in fact man!

A picture of a world without paradox and without eternity […] has much to be said in its favor. It evokes confidence, for it is simple and straightforward and uncramped; it provides considerable security and has few ragged edges […] its standards and general principles are conveniently vague and flexible […] men are able against this background to profess that they are wise. The night, too, has its wisdom. But, nevertheless, the vanity of the mind and of the darkness of the heart still remain facts to be reckoned with […] Vanity of mind and blindness of heart inevitably bring into being corrupt conduct. The more unbroken man marches along his road secure in himself, the more surely does he make a fool of himself.

Our lack of humility, our lack of recollection, our lack of fear in the presence of God, are not in our present condition inevitable, however natural they may seem to us […] the insecurity of our whole existence, the vanity and utter questionableness of all that is and of what we are, lie as in a textbook open before us.

(Extracts from Karl Barth: “Epistle to the Romans” pp 44-49).