I find it ironic that this week a certain male celebrity decided to unveil his newly found sexuality on the cover of a magazine called Vanity Fair. It immediately reminded me of the classic, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. In his story, John Bunyan chronicles the journey of the main character, Christian, as he makes his way to the Celestial City. But to arrive at his final destination, Christian must pass through the city of Vanity where there is held a perpetual fair called Vanity Fair. Here is how Bunyan describes it. “Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair. It is kept all the year long. It beareth the name of Vanity Fair, because the town where it is kept is lighter than vanity, and also because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity; as is the saying of the wise, ‘All that cometh is vanity.’” This fair, created by the enemy of God, was intended to act as a distraction to those who would seek the joys to be found in God’s Celestial City. And it was impossible to make your way without passing through Vanity and be exposed to its fair. Bunyan further described Vanity Fair as “at this fair are all such merchandise sold as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures; and delights of all sorts, as harlots, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.” Vanity Fair was all about distractions and temptations. The contents of the fair were intended to take lure individuals from the more long-lasting and life-changing atmosphere of the Celestial City.
The great Jewish king, Solomon, had much to say about vanity. He was wealthy, wise, and powerful. He enjoyed all the distractions this life has to offer and yet he struggled with feelings of meaninglessness. Listen to what he said. “I said to myself, ‘Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the “good things” in life.’ But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, ‘Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?’ After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world. I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 NLT). Solomon had it all. But his conclusion was that it all was vanity, meaningless and, ultimately, unfulfilling.
Back to our celebrated celebrity. There he was in all his newly found, surgically-enhanced femininity. His coming out party was heralded as everything from heroic to sadly pathetic. But if we leave all the moral implications and ramifications aside for the moment, what can we learn from this latest episode in America’s love affair with all things progressive? The truth is, what we have just witnessed is the over-the-top version of what goes on every day in the lives of countless individuals. We live in a society that is obsessed with image and its enhancement. We spend billions of dollars on everything from exercise classes and weight loss treatments to liposuction, botox injections and plastic surgery. The fact that someone would go to the extent to attempt to change their actual sexuality should not surprise us. It may shock and disgust us, but it is the ultimate expression of the pursuit of self-fulfillment. For this individual, the pinnacle of success in the world of sports was not enough. The allure of celebrity, made possible through reality TV, proved ultimately unfulfilling. Surrounded by a family for whom surgical enhancements and shameless self-promotion had become their claims to fame, he simply took his pursuit of self-seeking to the next logical level.
While I personally opposed to what I see displayed on the cover of Vanity Fair, I am not surprised. It is the ultimate outcome of a world living in search of fulfillment, but finding itself distracted by temporary, physical fixes that will never deliver on the promises they offer. There are millions of people living in this world with plastic smiles pasted on their faces, enjoying shallow victories achieved through man-made alterations to themselves or their circumstances. But no amount of surgical enhancements, social advancements, or financial achievements will ever make anyone truly happy. Solomon had to finally admit, “I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world.” But it all proved vain and meaningless. The question we must be willing to ask ourselves is, “How far am I willing to go in my search for significance and self-satisfaction?” To what degree am I willing to take my quest for joy, pleasure, contentment, hope and happiness? That cover of the July 2015 issue of Vanity Fair is a mirror into the soul of America. It is a stark statement of what we are all about as a nation. Summed up in that one image is a powerful indictment of man’s attempt to live life without God. Whether we like it or not, that photograph is a collective snap shot of mankind.
But Solomon leaves us with some sobering words of warning. “Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NLT). At the end of the day, this is all about man’s relationship with God. It is about being right with Him. No amount of physical, financial, emotional or relational change will ever provide for us the one thing we all so desperately need: A right relationship with God. We will never find true happiness or fulfillment apart from Him. And the only way to be made right with God is through His Son Jesus Christ. The greatest change we must all undergo is internal, not external. It is a spiritual transformation, not a surgical enhancement. The allure of Vanity Fair is its promise of the all-so-illusive life of fulfillment. This world will never provide what we all so desperately need. But God can.