The expression, “to have feet of clay,” comes from the Bible. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon dreamed of an image with feet of clay. The rest of the thing was metal. Here’s his dream, as the prophet Daniel interprets it:
31 “You, O king, were watching; and behold, a great image! This great image, whose splendor was excellent, stood before you; and its form was awesome. 32 “This image’s head was of fine gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 “its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. 34 “You watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 “Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:31-35, NKJV).
The feet of “iron mixed with clay” were the weak spot. The vulnerability. The Achilles’ heel. When the “stone cut without hands” struck the image, it was on that exact spot. The stone crushed the image to dust, starting with the feet of clay. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed that dream something like 2600 years ago.
A thousand years ago, a controversy erupted in the eastern Christian church over the use of icons. Statues, images, and paintings of Jesus were deemed to be the very “graven images” prohibited by the Ten Commandments. Idol-breakers, called “iconoclasts,” which is Greek for… uh… “idol-breakers,” went on a rampage. They destroyed statues, paintings, windows, adornments, and even coins — any likeness of Jesus or the saints. Church councils debated and put anathemas (damnations) on people who made icons or any artistic depiction of Jesus.
It seems to me that it’s human nature to create icons and tear them down.
My heart goes out to Tiger Woods. He’s got everything money can buy, and he’s still not happy. He worked hard to get to the top of game, I give him that. At the same time, he was the willing accomplice in the creating his own image, his own icon.
Apparently, sports media writers knew of his indiscretions, but they chose not to cover them. I have no argument with that. Media rarely covers the sexual dalliances of the stars… think of various U.S. Presidents and the hush-up of their adulterous ways.
But then something triggers a feeding frenzy. Monica Lewinski. A gay masseuse. Bite marks on a woman’s back. Or, in Tiger’s case, a late-night crash into a tree with his wife left holding the nine-iron.
All bets were off. The very media that created the icon, crushed it. They’re still beating it to fine powder today.
Iconoclasts. We’re all infected.
‘Whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the
light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors
will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear!’
(Luke 12:3, NLT)
…. No matter how practiced you are at containing your Inner
Mess, you will one day shout it from the rooftops. My Sunday
school teachers first laid that verse on me when I was in junior
high. My twelve-year-old mind pictured a cosmic TV screen
with my latest sins broadcast for the entire universe to see. It
scared me then. It scares me today.
Imagine shouting your deepest, most embarrassing secrets
from a rooftop. Or posting them on YouTube. Or printing
them in the church bulletin. Some small-town newspapers
publish the names of men who have been arrested for picking
up hookers. The drive to hide the Inner Mess is a powerful motivator. My friend Tommy [names have been changed] produced pornography before he met Jesus. He tells
heartbreaking stories of young women begging
him to get their pictures back. But it was too late. The rights
to their pictures had been sold and the pictures had been
distributed on the Internet. Their secrets were being shouted
from the rooftops.
Jesus is not teaching that God broadcasts your sins to the
world. He’s teaching that you’ll do it. You’ll crack. You’ll ‘out’
yourself. You can’t contain your Inner Mess forever. It’s only a
matter of time before you slip.
And no matter how many religious practices you might
observe, they cannot gloss over a life dominated by your Inner
Mess. In fact, the more religious practices you pile on, the
more you become a hypocrite.
In the physical realm, nature abhors a vacuum. Maybe, in the spiritual realm, truth abhors a hypocrite — anyone who nurtures a massive disconnect between public image and private reality.
I look at Tiger and think, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” What if your latest scandal were broadcast on the evening news? Yikes!
The good news is that this is Tiger’s moment to really shine. He can step into God’s grace. He can incarnate the tune he’s probably sung: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me… God is inviting Tiger to step into the only life that can satisfy his soul.
Here’s a guy with money, sex, and power — more than most of us can ever imagine. Is he happy? Even before his fall, was he happy then? No. Paying for prostitutes (allegedly) and collecting mistresses (allegedly) is the hallmark of a frustrated man, a heartbroken man, a searching, unsatisfied man, not a happy man. My soul aches for Tiger… not in judgment, but in sympathy.
Only Jesus can satisfy your soul.
When Nebuchadnezzar suffered his crash, he fell into a psychotic state that lasted seven years. At the end of that time, he wrote his incredible testimony:
34 And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever: For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom is from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?” 36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. (Daniel 4:34-37, NKJV).
There’s always hope. Even for Nebuchadnezzar. Even for you or me. When God brings us down, he’s not being spiteful. He’s being kind. He’s delivering us from the chains of a delusional life into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Daniel’s “stone cut without hands” is Jesus. He brings us down from our self-destructive pedestal that he might set us on the foundation of his heart-liberating, soul-satisfying Self.
Maybe Tiger Woods will write the same story as King Nebuchadnezzar. We can only pray. I know that I’ll be writing that story — we all will. It’s just a matter of time.
Because we all have feet of clay.
Until we are anchored to the Rock.