Lewis Smedes on pride and vanity

Pride in the religious sense is the arrogant refusal to let God be God. It is to grab God’s status for one’s self. In the vivid language of the Bible, pride is puffing yourself up in God’s face. Pride is turning down God’s invitation to join the dance of life as a creature in his garden and wishing instead to be the Creator, Independent, reliant on one’s own resources. Never does pride want to pray for strength, ask for grace, plead for mercy, or give thanks to God. Pride is the grand illusion, the fantasy of fantasies, the cosmic put-on.

The fantasy that we can make it as little gods leaves us empty at the center. Once we decide we have to make it on our own, we are attacked by the demons of fear and anxiety. We are worried that we cannot keep our balance as long as we carry no more inside our empty heart than what we can put there. We suspect that we lack the power to become what our pride makes us think we are. So we learn to swagger, to bluff, to use symbols to cover up our fears that we lack substance. We force other people to act as buttresses for the shaky ego that pride created by emptying our soul of God. In the words of God’s love song, we become arrogant.

Vanity is emptiness. A person who is empty at the center of life is vain, and a vain person is almost always arrogant. Every new situation calls forth the questions: ‘What can I get out of this to support the need of my ego for power and applause?’ As he encounters new people, he wonders, ‘How can this person contribute to my need for applause and power?’ He projects his own anxieties onto other people, so when others come to him he wonders, ‘What is this person’s pitch? What does he want from me?’ Life becomes a campaign to use people to support oneself and a constant battle to avoid having others use oneself that way. Vanity creates the need to use people because we cannot keep our balance spiritually if we are empty at the center.
— Lewis B. Smedes, Love Within Limits: Realizing Selfless Love in a Selfish World (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), pp. 34-35