The term “feet of clay” comes from the Old Testament, where Daniel interprets a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King (Daniel chapter 2, verses 31-45). Nebuchadnezzar dreamt of a huge statue, made from gold, silver, brass and iron, but with clay mixed in with the iron of the feet.
The statue was enormous and intimidating and Nebuchadnezzar, frightened by it, asked all the prophets and seers and wise men firstly what the dream was, and then what it meant. It is interesting that Nebuchadnezzar asked them to tell him the dream first, because he understood the corruption and lies that filled his court.
Under great pressure (because the King had ordered that all the wise men be killed since no one he had asked could interpret the dream) Daniel sought the Lord and prayed for understanding. Our great and awesome God showed Daniel the dream and the interpretation, thereby saving the lives of all the wise men and allaying Nebuchadnezzar’s fears.
The feet of the statue were made of iron mixed with clay – strength mixed with weakness. The weakness of the clay meant that the whole statue could be brought to ruin. The dream was prophetic, to indicate the eventual destruction of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire.
This is the origin of the term “feet of clay”. It basically means that no matter how strong and intimidating a person (or cricket team) appears, he has feet of clay – that is, vulnerability that can destroy the person.
What is this vulnerability?
Romans Chapter 3, verse 23 states that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
That means everyone. Including you and me.
No matter how we have built up our reputations, done good, been exalted by people, got ATARs over 95, won the Nobel Peace Prize for service to humanity, or become a sports hero, we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory.
The key is to live as well as we can, by God’s grace, so that people can see our integrity and trust our decisions and actions. We need to accept that there may be penalties (hopefully just ones) for our sinful actions. We also need to exercise forgiveness for others (and ourselves) when we see their clay feet.
Winning at all costs
Even though the Tall Poppy Syndrome is alive and well, we still love to identify with winners. Australia is proud of its sports achievements, particularly internationally. The Matildas are on a roll at the moment. In the past there have been the Socceroos, Boomers, Opals and of course our fantastic cricket team.
Even these heroes have clay feet. There are far too many instances of sports players held up to be “heroes” because of their skill and ability only to be found to participate in cheating through drug use, eg Lance Armstrong.
Cheating that deliberately affects the outcome of a game is deplorable. There need to be penalties that are a deterrent as well as a consequence.
Drawing the line
Where should one draw the line between deeds that affect the game and the personal integrity of the player?
Currently, the NRL has four players who have been charged with domestic violence. This article lists a number of players who were found to be guilty of violence and abuse, but who didn’t make national headlines or put their sports code to shame. While these are called “personal issues” they still speak for the character of those taking part. Should that extend to the reputation of the team?
We really don’t want to know about those issues, because their skill on the field is what we care about and we want to identify with winners. Abuse doesn’t have to affect the way they play the game, but do we really want to hold up as heroes players who display such weaknesses?
The real issue may be not so much that they cheated or abused, but that our heroes – the ones we put on a pedestal and get vicarious kudos from – affect our own identity. And being found to have clay feet is just not cricket! Who wants to identify with a sports hero that beats his wife or cheats the game?
How should we respond as Christians? We are fairly powerless to make any impact globally on injustice but that does not stop us from recognizing that we all have clay feet, and winning at all costs is ultimately futile. Our greatest weapon is prayer.
For ourselves, we should walk in integrity as the Proverbs tell us:
The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out. (Proverbs Chapter 10, verse 9)
The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. (Proverbs Chapter 11, verse3)
And our prayer for ourselves and those around us could be: May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in you (Psalm Chapter 25, verse 21)
Aira Chilcott is a retired secondary school teacher with lots of science and theology under her belt. Aira is a panellist for Young Writers and indulges in reading, bushwalking, volunteering at a nature reserve and learning to play clarinet. Aira is married to Bill and they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html