Last week I wrote about the bigness and majesty of God. This week I am led to speak of the smallness and fragility of humanity.
A chief metaphor for this contrast between God and man is that of a potter and the pots he forms from fresh clay or he re-forms from shards of pottery that have been discarded and reclaimed by him. The metaphor appears first in the Psalms, several times in Isaiah and Jeremiah, and in three New Testament passages.
We are pots in the hands of a Master Potter.
The prophets use the metaphor to emphasize the audacity of human beings who disrespect the creative actions of God, and think they are more important and powerful than they are. Isaiah speaks of “those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord…as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!” He asks rhetorically, “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘You did not make me?’ Can the pot say to the potter, ‘You know nothing?” (Isaiah 29:15-17).
Isaiah returns to this theme 16 chapters later, crying,“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter,‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?” (Is.45:9).
Then, Isaiah answers himself: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand” (Is. 64:8).
Paul quotes these verses in Romans 9 to prove the point that God decides what to do and what to impart to the many different kinds of pots he has created. We dare not question him on this as though we are smarter than he, or as though he lacks the power or wisdom to rule and reign over his creation.
Period. It’s not complicated.
Throughout human and biblical history, human beings in every generation challenge the artistry of God in their lives and circumstances. They think thoughts and pursue exploits that challenge his sovereignty and authority as Creator. They use their bodies in ways that bodies were never meant to be used, sexually and violently. They use political, economic or demonic power to oppress others far outside of the will of God.
In Psalm 2:9, the psalmist reminds his audience that when the leaders of nations exalt themselves above the knowledge of God, God is able to “dash them to pieces like pottery.” It doesn’t take a lot of strength for a person to smash a clay pot. Think of what the omnipotent Lord of the universe can do if he chooses to.
But our God loves mercy. I rest on this rock of truth as a child of God, and as a minister to broken people.
Jeremiah’s book contains perhaps the best-known reference to the Potter and his mercy toward his broken pots. Jeremiah travels to the potter’s house to learn the lesson God has for him there. As he observes the potter at the wheel, he notices that “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 (Jer. 18-4).
Added to the other passages about pots and potters, this one tells us that God is interested in picking up broken pieces and forming something new, “as seems best to him.” He is not scared off by our marred nature. He is perfectly able to make a new, more beautiful, more functional, more pleasing pot out of shattered shards.
How great is the creative, life-restoring goodness of God!
If he promised to do this restoration work for the fractured nation of Israel, he can do it also in his church. Paul writes to Timothy,
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use.Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Tim 2:20-21).
As Christ-followers, we are vessels in God’s exceptionally large house, his kingdom. He knows where to find us, and he knows how to utilize each of us for distinct purposes. He even has a personal development plan! If we desire to be made holy and most useful, there is a path to that goal: to allow him to cleanse us, sanctify us.
I know some brothers and sisters in the Lord who stay in a spot very close to the Master’s hand. He can reach for them easily, and use them to accomplish his purposes. I learn from them as I desire to move closer and closer to the throne, to always be within his reach.
He is working on all of us. We just need to stay on the wheel, and not jump from his hands.