This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” — Jeremiah 18:1-6
In the days of the Old Testament, clay for pots came straight from the ground. The lump of clay was dirty and had no beauty about it, especially with its disarray of twigs and pebbles. The potter would have to pick out the impurities by hand if he were to use the clay properly. Kneading and pressing the clay, the potter also removed air pockets so the clay wouldn’t explode in the heat of the fire.
Even today, as in the Old Testament, skilled potters have a vision for each lump of clay. There is purpose in every measurement, in every stroke of the hand, in every tool used, and even in the speed of the wheel. Eventually, the dirty lump of clay, full of sticks and stones, is shaped and molded by the potter’s hand to make a beautiful vessel to be used and to be shown for the glory of the potter.
It’s not easy for us today to fully comprehend this imagery of the potter and the clay, especially because most of us are not skilled potters. But this week, our team ventured out of Ljubljana, to Radovljica, for a day to learn about this Old Testament imagery and the chance to put ourselves in the potter’s shoes. (And let me tell you, if you’ve never used a pottery wheel, it’s harder than it looks!)
The first and only time I used a pottery wheel was in eighth grade, and it was kind of a disaster. But I decided to give it another go this past week.
I started by throwing the clay onto the wheel and struggling to adjust it to the center. (If the clay isn’t centered, it will be unstable and will most likely collapse.) When the wheel starts to spin, I learned I needed to keep my hands steady while putting tremendous pressure on the clay. This was no easy task, because the clay wants to move from the center. So, I had to continue applying pressure until the clay stabilized (nearly 10 minutes!), all the while keeping the clay from drying out by sprinkling water on it.
Next, I pressed both of my thumbs into the middle of the clay to start the formation of the mug. Slowly, as I continued pressing the clay with my left hand, I was able to start forming the design I wanted with my other hand. I was so excited at the shape it was taking. But soon, the clay started to shift because I didn’t keep on as much pressure. I struggled to keep it from distorting, but eventually, I decided I needed to collapse the clay and start over. I was sad, but I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied with a distorted mug. I wanted a pretty mug. So finally, after more pressure, more struggle, more shaping and guiding, my product was finished on the wheel. But I wasn’t satisfied with just a clay mug, I wanted to give it color and decoration. So I painted it and added some decorative flowers, and finished it off with my initial, signifying that it was my work.
As followers of Jesus and believers in His promises for us, we are the clay. We came from the ground, being dirty and full of twigs and pebbles. Through the sacrifice of His Son, He cleanses us of all our impurities and gives us relationship with Himself. But He doesn’t stop there; God envisions beauty from clay. He puts us in the middle of His wheel and applies pressure so we are centered and stable. And He keeps us centered throughout the process, always keeping one hand on us to direct us and shape us into who He wants us to be. When we start to dance away from the middle or go lopsided in our sin, He pulls us back, for He is not satisfied with a second-rate, distorted lump. He desires beauty. He has purpose. He desires to mold us into exquisite pieces of art that resemble Him and are used for His glory. And He desires marking us with His initial, saying, “She is mine.” If God, our perfect and personal Father, is the potter, what better hands could I ever be in?
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. — Isaiah 64:8