Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Clay Man

I have often laughed at the cartoon character Larry Boy, who mis-quotes Matthew 23:12 as “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exhausted.”  While the original text reads “exalted,” the meaning of this passage can be lost if one does not have an authentic understanding of the word “humble.”  In the religious education class that I teach, I always try to show the nature of God by telling this story.  

“Let’s say I give each of you a ball of clay and you choose to make a clay man.  You form arms and legs and a head.  You may imagine this man walking around and moving about your desk.  Now you are done.  What will you do with the man?”    I wait until a brave boy in the class speaks up and says “Smash him!”  Of course he does.  It’s natural for at least one of the kids to say that.  Then I hit them with, “God formed people out of clay, so YOU are that clay man to God.” The stunned looks and silence is gratifying.

Think about it.  God, simply in his role as creator, is perfectly within his rights to create and destroy his works.  Every atom in the universe is his stuff after all.  He created each one out of nothing and by all common sense has the right to do with it as he wants. Okay, so let’s extend the metaphor.  What if you could bring your clay man to life?  You can talk to him, play with him and make a place for him to live.  The next question I ask is, “But would you LOVE this man?  Would you adopt this man?”  They answer “No.”  But God does that for us.  He invites us to be his children and elevates us to divine sonship, making us heirs to his “stuff” (and it’s all his stuff).  

“What if the man were to say ‘I don’t need you.  I am fine on my own.  I like where I live but I really would rather not have to deal with you.’?   You might decide to smash the clay man then!  What does God do?  Does he smash us?   Does he reject us and un-adopt us?  Nope, he gives us the separation we ask for, but will not un-adopt or forsake his clay people.   He invites us to return to him.

Some of the kids protest, “But he HAS to do that.  He made us!”  I remind them that they are just clay people, made out of his stuff at his pleasure.  We have no right to demand anything.  In fact, everything we have, see and are are not our own!  It’s all HIS stuff!  

Seeing creation and the world and ourselves in this way is seeing reality as it is.  That is the meaning of the word “humble.”  It is not to put ourselves down.  It is not a way to manipulate God into giving us a higher status.  It is to see ourselves as we are.  The origin of the word means  "on the ground," from humus "earth."   We need to see ourselves as earthy, or clay, beings.  God exalts us from our original clay to divine beings.  He breathes in us a living spirit and joins the earthy to the heavenly.

And yet we exalt ourselves.  Exhausting!

1 comment:

  1. This post explains why I don’t see a theological problem when God “smashes the clay man” in the Old Testament. I suppose the flood in Genesis would be the ultimate example. How many must have drowned to death? Not a pleasant way to die. I may not like it, but what I like and do not like does not determine was is right or wrong.