If we look at it in the King James, we see another side. And that would be Psalm 39:6.
Psalms 39:6 – Surely every man walks in a vain show. Surely they are disquieted in vain. He heaps up riches and know not who shall gather them. So the Hebrew term there – translated vain show – comes from an unused root word meaning to shade. That’s why the ESV translated it shadow.
Another meaning for that word is a phantom. But that also means a phantom, as in an illusion. It’s figurative – a resemblance – hence a representative figure, translated image and vain show in the Scripture. When we look at these magazines that have pictures of movie stars, for example, our young girls look at them and they feel “less than.” What they don’t know is that these glamor photos have been airbrushed and, if you’ll let me use the word, shaded, so that these women appear to look much more alluring than they really are. It’s an illusion – a shading of the truth, a deception. That’s what the word means.
So when we look at it from that perspective, God is saying that, when we walk around pretending that we’ll live forever, that money makes us something, that we’re good, honest, others-centered, attractive people, it’s a deception – of others, for sure, but before that, it’s a deception of the self. The deceitful human heart starts with self-deception.
A man walked into my office some time ago, and he said he was depressed and had been for as long as he could remember. He’d been fighting it for years, he said, but he could not shake the idea that he was worthless. He recalled that, when he was in high school, he’d gone out for football, though he didn’t like it – when he was a kid – in an effort to convince himself and others that he was okay. He’d gotten a doctor’s degree to demonstrate to himself and the world that he was capable. He’d gone into non-profit work to prove that he was a selfless servant of other people. He’d become a university professor to better the human race. But he never believed any of it – not really. He always had the suspicion that he would be found out for what he was – a terrible, defective human being. He told me that, between the ages of 13 and 30, he worked very hard at staying drunk as much as he could, because he felt relief from his defectiveness. And people seemed to accept him more when he was drunk – or so it seemed in his drunken state. But he gave it up, because it wasn’t really working for him. To maintain consistency of mind, we also have to deceive others. Notice that, in his efforts to deceive himself about his state, he was also attempting to deceive other people about his condition. “Deceitful above all things,” the scripture tells us.
To complicate it even more, he told me once that he could remember when he was four or five, his mother was mentally ill and she would go on rants, where she would criticize him