The Clay Man and the Omnipotent Man

Unless a man believes rightly, he cannot be saved.  St. Athanasius

Today two stories are being told about the world and how we should live in it. One story is very old, older than written history. The other is quite new, it comes from the Enlightenment in Europe. The first story creates an environment for sustainability, the second does not.

The older story is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition and is found in the books of Genesis and First Corinthians. It describes humanity as being intimately linked with the earth. In this story man is identified not by name but with a description. “Adam” in the Hebrew language means “clay”. The “Clay Man” story places humanity within an environment of laws. These laws establish simultaneously restraints and supports for the Clay Man’s life.

The second story is far more recent than the first.  It was crafted in Europe by many people such as Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Charles Darwin and Friedrich Nietzsche. The people involved in creating this new story were interested in two things. They wanted to use the scientific method to take control over the material world and, at the same time, they wanted absolute freedom for the human will. The pursuit of both of these aims has created the modern world. It is now routine for people to believe that the purpose of science and technology is overcome all natural limitations. Then to take advantage of this power an assault has been waged against Godly laws for at least the last four hundred years. For evidence of this assault Friedrich Nietzsche is an adequate spokesman. “We deny God; in denying God, we deny accountability, only by doing that do we redeem the world.” (Twilight of the Idols, 1888).

Today, with science and technology, Omnipotent Man believe he is no longer part of the earth, he is both master and lawmaker over the earth. Modern people have been taught to believe in power without limits, it is a story that encourages an unsustainable consumer society.

Stories Shape Our Lives

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To better understand how these two stories shape our lives, we will review the attitudes they convey about: 1) the motivation for work, 2) work itself and, 3) the satisfaction from work well done.

Motivation for work.

Before he begins to work the Clay Man has an image in his mind of what he is making.  In his imagination there is something to be made that is a perfect balance between usefulness and beauty. His work is then motivated by an outward search for the perfection he can see in his mind.

When the Omnipotent Man begins to work he assumes he lives in a limitless and lawless environment. Perfection and balance are useless ideas in this environment. The Omnipotent Man’s motivations are limited to the speed and the volume of production.

How to work 

The Clay Man knows work and rest do not have to be in conflict. Work can be both productive and restful.

Think of someone who skillfully plays a musical instrument, they work and relax simultaneously.

Watch a pool of water at the base of a waterfall, it can be seen that level of the water in the pool remains constant, the water falling into the pool and the stream flowing out of the pool are balanced.

For Omnipotent Man who presumes to be ruler over the environment, work is demeaning to his dignity. It is an unpleasant reminder that he is not yet free from the chores of providing for his needs of food, shelter, clothes and defense.

The satisfaction from work

In anticipation of his work the Clay Man visualized what he wanted to make, accepted the materials to be used as gifts from a giver, then worked that material to carefully complete the task. Vision, gratefulness and celebration are experiences of someone who knows they have done well working within the limitations, difficulties and dangers that are a part of life.

Having been taught he is superior the limits of the laws of nature, what reason would Omnipotent Man have for being satisfied with any work done? The will of Omnipotent Man is to be autonomous and, to the degree this is not possible, he becomes disenchanted with life. Furthermore as he defines himself by consumption and since there is always more to consume, the time for celebration is forever postponed.

Before we learn the end of these two stories it should be said that the Clay Man is perfectly at home with the scientific method. He finds each new discovery about the natural world increases the grandeur of the Creation. It is not the scientific method that teaches there are no limits. It is only Omnipotent Man who makes that claim. It is a claim that lures an unwary public into the trap of being endlessly unsatisfied consumers. A trap greatly strengthened because modern society keeps repeating the mantra “consumption will bring happiness, consumption will bring happiness”. This is repeated until the consumer dies without ever having experienced gratefulness or the joy of creating something both useful and beautiful.

The End of the Two Stories.

The Clay Man knows he comes from the earth and must live within the laws of the Kingdom of God. He believes these laws are gifts like hand rails on a steep staircase. Respecting them begets contentment as he works to saw lumber, weave cloth, plant and harvest a garden or simply listens to the twill song of a bird. Omnipotent Man believes the good life is to live without lawful limits, this demented idea produces not freedom but endless unhappiness as nothing is ever enough.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Rev. Donald Wehmeyer
The Rev. Dr. Donald Wehmeyer was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He is a graduate of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (Master of Divinity, 1981), and received a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Presbyterian Seminary (1998). He was a Millard Scholar at Union Presbyterian Seminary in 1999. Rev. Wehmeyer has served in the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico since 1981.

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