I note that this morning's list of 'Today's Most Viewed' news stories on the http://stuff.co.nz/ website goes like this:
1. George Clooney held at gunpoint
2. Shakira 'sex tape' an April Fool's Day hoax
3. Family claims largest ever Lotto prize
4. Croc Hunter hid pain and suffering, father says
5. Comedian convicted on drink-drive charge
6. Professor calls for tax on 'poison' butter
7. Incest couple had another child, court documents show
8. Men like negotiating curves when it comes to body shape
9. Rugby league star in drowning scare
10. Will food prices ever come down?
This is not a particularly unusual list. I keep an eye on it as it provides a window into a nation's soul. It is usually a combination of the superficial, the criminal, the covetous, the sexual, the celebritous mixed in with the very occasional news story of weight and substance.
I wonder if such a list of 'Today's Most Viewed' news stories on the computers of Jesus-followers would look any different?
Let's name what is going on here.
It is an electronic manifestation of what the writer of Ecclesiastes calls 'vanity'. The English translations struggle with this word: 'futile', 'useless', 'meaningless' ... each one of them is too abstract. I like Eugene Petersen's "smoke". Or the image of our "breath" on a frosty morning. Now a couple of relevant nuances can be developed.
One is 'smoke with respect to time' - that which does not last. It is brief. It is fleeting. Three verses up from Ecclesiastes 1:2 is a fabulous use of the very same word where beauty is described as fleeting (Prov 31:30). In Old Testament thought this "smoke" is the polar opposite to "eternity", the very eternity which God plants in our lives (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
The other is 'smoke with respect to weight' - that which has no substance. It is empty. It is hollow. It is weightless. The Psalms use the word this way (see Psalm 62:5-10). And here it is a contrast to what does have substance and is weighty and rock-like - namely, God. And the word that is used is "glory". In Old Testament thought this "smoke" is the polar opposite to "glory". That is why the baseline message in Ecclesiastes is to "fear God" - take him seriously because he has weight and is as unlike smoke as it is possible to be.
So what is going on this 'Today's Most Viewed' list? Glory is being given to that which is smoke-y. Weight is being given to that which is weightless. And when Jesus-followers are caught up in this it is tragic. Why? Isn't it obvious?! In practice - maybe not in theory - our lives are giving glory to that which has none and in so doing we squeeze out space and time for the glory being ascribed to the One who has it all. I think this is called idolatry.