A Theology of Playdough

Homemade playdough with baby oil is amazing. It smells so much better than the store bought variety, and when I had three small girls, it lasted longer, too.

Playdough is amazing in itself. You can shape it however you want, and it’s completely moldable. The girls spent hours “making cookies” for us, carefully stamping their plastic cookie cutters into the dough and giggling with satisfaction when the exact replica of their cutter—be it a unicorn or a dragon—looked back at them from the dough.

Exact replicas can be tricky.

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names (Hebrews 1.1-4 ).

These four verses in Greek aren’t four verses. It’s actually one long sentence of which these three words are the main clause—“God has spoken.”

Even as a former English teacher, I do not want to diagram that sentence.

Look at what this one sentence tells us about Jesus:

Jesus is Heir—He inherits charge of the kingdom, and his teaching determines what it looks like.

Jesus is Creator—Of everything.

Jesus is Sustainer—The writer reminds us that we breathe because of him.

Jesus is Radiant glory—We can now see God himself.

Jesus is the Cleanser from sin—He teaches us how to live free from brokenness.

Jesus is Power and authority—So he freely gives us power to help create the kingdom.

Jesus is the Character of God.

This last one is where I get caught up. Stunned, really. It’s not that I haven’t known he was God in the flesh. I simply hadn’t thought about Jesus being the imprint of God. The Character. The perfectly stamped image of the original.

The Son expresses the very character of God.

In the ancient world, craftsmen made coins by stamping soft, hot metal with a pattern—a pattern that was then set for he life of the coin. Typically, when one got a new king or emperor, an engraver had to be hired to create a portrait of the ruler. That portrait became the model for stamping the coins.

It was supposed to be a perfect image. Looking at it should be like looking at the authority and person of the king and acting accordingly.

This image stamped in metal is what the Greek meant by “character.”

“The word character in ancient Greek was widely used to mean just that: the accurate impression left by the stamp on the coin. From there it came to mean both the individual letters that could be produced by this method (hence the ‘characters’ of a language) and the ‘character,’ in the broader sense, of a person or thing: the sort of person, the ‘type.’” — George Guthrie

So what’s the writer saying?

Look at Jesus, and it’s like looking in a mirror at God himself. God’s character is exactly reproduced.

It is as though the exact imprint of the father’s very nature and glory has been precisely reproduced in the soft metal of the son’s human nature. Now it is there for all the world to see.

For a long time, God sent sketches of himself to his people, but now he’s given us his exact portrait.

Why is this important?

When we planned to have a foreign exchange student stay with us for a year, we met her in advance through Facebook, email, packets filled out, photos, and texts. But we didn’t know who Leonie from Berlin was until we met her and lived with her.

We needed to meet God, face to face.

It’s difficult to know and follow someone you can’t see. Humans, sadly, have a tendency to constantly make God in our image, not the other way around. Perhaps with the very image of him in front of us, that could be remedied.

Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand the far off God. I admit to being confounded by many things in the Old Testament. At times, trying to explain them takes more theological scope than I feel capable of.

There is one thing, however, I know.

God chose to make one final, clear statement about who I AM —

THIS is who I AM. Jesus.

We had lots of messages back and forth, but we didn’t know who he was until we lived with him.

God makes his final identity statement—If you want to know who I am, what I value, what I want, look at Jesus. Listen to Jesus. Come alongside Jesus. Because everything goes through the lens of who He is. He is I AM. I AM He. There is perfect correlation. The stamp is exact.

This is very helpful to me when I have questions—why does the God of the Old Testament seem so violent? I don’t know. Why does the God of the OT seem so set on his own glory? Idk.

But I know Jesus is his exact stamp. So God is what Jesus is—loving of enemies, humble, caring for the fringes, frustrated with religious hypocrisy. When I don’t know answers, I know who God is, what his character is, by knowing Jesus.

Why are humans so cruel? Why do we suffer? I don’t know. But I do know the Jesus who wept with friends. The Jesus who wailed over a city. The Jesus who healed and smiled and laughed with his friends. The Jesus who  prayed for enemies and even ate with them.

Why does God seem sometimes silent? I don’t know. But I see a Jesus who prayed with all his soul for his followers.

Thus is exactly what God looks and acts like. Hebrews tells us so.

It’s no longer a mystery. There is no longer an abstract. We have the exact image, and we can know him personally.

Do you have questions about the goodness of God? Here’s the answer. “In these days, God has spoken to us through His Son. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God.”

Jill Richardson
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