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Vain Imaginings


Rom 1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

The word “vain” usually is taken to mean empty or useless. However, in this context we might also add “harmful”. Humans have the creative ability to imagine various things such as how an invention might work or how an artistic composition might be arranged. Sadly this capability can also be used to deceive ourselves. This deception can take various forms but often is done to give ourselves pleasure.

The bible warns us to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Rom 12:3). This is because distancing ourselves from truth can be dangerous. The bible often associates what is vain with deception. Self-deception is a sort of prison from which escape is difficult because one usually is unable to see any reason to escape unless reality brutally intrudes. For example, an alcoholic might make changes when he loses a job or his family abandons him. Similarly a person caught in self-pleasuring imaginings of popularity, wealth, or other delusions may only be free when he encounters some difficult reality.

Even Christians can fall victim to pleasure inducing imaginations, Consider the Christian who sees in every incident of life the providential hand of God. They may mistakenly see themselves as particularly pious when what they experience is the pleasurable sensation of feeling special. The prophet Elijah was feeling singularly special (1 Kings 19:10) and while God was trying to comfort him he also told Elijah that he had 7,000 people who could replace him (1 Kings 19:18).

God gave us feelings to enjoy life as well as to be a sort of fire alarm to let us know when things are wrong. However, It can be all too easy to let our feelings become predominant such that we are taken captive by our desire to feel good. Consider a dining companion who announced what was probably a commonly pious blessing at a meal with Jesus (Luke 14:15) only to be told a parable that showed that his “feel good” “piety” had led him to miss the reality of what to expect.

The drug addict or alcoholic might be an example of how the seductive nature of feelings can lead us incrementally to a condition where we are distant from truth. In a way, the drug addict or alcoholic has an advantage in that they may face physical consequences that can provide a “wake up call”. The person with vain imaginations may never escape. Consider the Pharisees who thought they were of superior righteousness. A lack of humility may be a good indicator that one is distant from truth.

While the verse from Romans talks about unsaved people who “hold the truth in unrighteousness”, there can be a valuable lesson for those in Christ as well. If we use our imagination to fuel pleasurable sensations, we can blind ourselves to truth and be ineffective or even in opposition to what our Savior would have for us.





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