• Matthew L. Tinkham Jr.

The Loving Potter and the Desperate Clay

Updated: Oct 22, 2019



"But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand" (Isa 64:8, ESV).

Have you ever been to one of those ol’ country stores where they still use a pottery wheel to make different clay vases, pots, etc.? They are few and far between these days due to the industrialization of pottery production and now its computerization with 3D printers. Even so, there are still some such places that have survived to this day where you can observe the “ol’ fashion way” of making pottery. When I was around twelve years of age, my father took me to New England to experience his birthplace and to see some relatives on his side of the family that we had not seen in many years.1 While we were in the state of Massachusetts (where he was born and raised), he took us to Plymouth Plantation, which is a historic village, established in 1947, that was designed to give you a taste of what life was like back in the seventeenth century when English colonists settled in that area. There were actors dressed in attire and from the 1600s performing activities similar to what people would have done in that time period. I can still remember one of the old buildings that we visited; it was an ol’ timey pottery shop. At the back end of the shop, there was a potter preparing to make a clay vase to sell. She slapped a large lump of clay onto the top of the horizontal turntable, known as a pottery wheel. She began to spin the wheel using a foot pedal. Back in Isaiah’s day, pottery wheels were probably hand turned, possibly with some sort of stick. Once the wheel was turning at the right speed, she placed her hands on the lump of clay and, as she did, it began to take shape. With great tenderness and care, she molded and shaped that seemingly worthless lump of clay into a beautiful vase. I was amazed to see the perfection of its ornate symmetry. When she had completed forming it, she moved the soft, wet vase into an ancient-looking kiln to fire it. This firing process hardens the clay, giving the vase its permanent shape. My sister and I were thrilled to be able to observe this process. What an incredible transformation a little lump of muddy clay underwent in the hands of the potter to become a beautiful vase! We walked through the other parts of the building, coming to the shopping area. There we found vases exactly like the one the potter had just shaped except these were painted and glazed with all kinds of beautiful colors. My dad bought us each a piece of pottery to remind us of the experience. This work of the potter is reminiscent of the beautiful depiction of humanity’s creation. In Gen 2:7, ESV, the LORD God stooped down into the dirt of the earth and, as a potter working with clay, formed the first human being, Adam, “of dust from the ground.” Then, he leaned over the lifeless form, placed his face very near to Adam’s face, and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” “firing” the lifeless Adam into “a living creature.” Further along in the narrative, God created the first woman, Eve. In a similar fashion, God knelt down into the dirt on the ground beside the sleeping Adam. He took from Adam’s side one of his ribs and closed up the wound. He took the rib and some dust from the ground and tenderly formed Eve. Next, he bent over her, positioning his face directly in front of hers, and breathed into her nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:21–22). Human beings are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:13–16, esp. 14, ESV)! Unfortunately, though, these beautiful “potteries” from the hands of the heavenly potter fell from the china cabinet in which God had placed them and broke into pieces (Gen 3:1–7). As a result, humanity stands sinful, guilty, and condemned in Adam. Many centuries ago, the prophet Isaiah reminded the southern kingdom of Judah, as well as his modern-day readers, of their now depraved condition. He wrote, “... we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities” (Isa 64:5–7, ESV; cf. Rom 3:9–18, 23). What a dire, desperate, and disastrous situation! Humans are deeply infected with the disease of sin and unrighteousness. Sin is in our nature and is our naturally inclined way of life. Even when we do good deeds, those righteous acts are still vile and contemptible. The Hebrew noun translated above as “a polluted garment” in verse 6 is בֶּגֶד עִדִּים (bɛḡɛḏ ʿiddīm), which literally means a used, soiled rag/garment of menstruations. Even the best in humanity is entirely revolting to God. We are very broken and fragmented pottery. Sin and Satan have ravished our lives, shattering us into millions of pieces, and we cannot put ourselves back together. Following this scathing rebuke of Judah’s sinful situation, Isaiah utilized a metaphor of a potter and clay in this prophetic prayer to give hope to the citizens of the kingdom of Judah, and us today, who are all in this dismal predicament.2 He wrote in Isa 64:8, ESV, “But now, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Because we have fallen and broken, we desperately need a potter who can shape and kiln us anew. Now, while broken pieces of pottery that have already been kilned cannot be turned back into clay to be recycled, God can do what human potters cannot. He is able to take our broken pieces and return us to moldable clay to be reshaped and refired by him. If we will surrender our broken pieces into the hands of the heavenly potter, he will make us completely new. If we turn over our hearts to him, confess and repent of our sin, God will make us into a new lump of clay (i.e., justification) and restart the process of molding us into beautiful showcase pieces of pottery (i.e., sanctification). As a careful potter, God handles us so tenderly and gently, remolding and reshaping us into the imago Dei, the image of God. He meticulously pays attention to each and every little detail as he reforms us into the new persons that he originally intended for us to be in Jesus. The process of sanctification is long and will take our entire lifetime. This is because we are very broken. Nevertheless, God will work long and hard to restore us to match his perfect character. Now, do not forget that the process of being made into new pottery, at times, can be painful. Pottery must be put into a kiln, it must be sent through the fire, in order to set permanently. Thus, at times, we will go through fiery tests and trials, God’s firing process, in order to permanently “set” or “harden” his beautiful character in us (Rom 5:3–5). Part of the purpose of the eschatological tribulation is to settle us into God’s character and truth. Sure, being fired is not usually an enjoyable experience, but it is a necessary one for the successful completion of the pottery. For this reason, we can rejoice and count our hardships as joy in Christ (1 Pet 4:12–19). He is using them (not causing them) to sculpt a masterpiece. And, of course, the pottery is not complete until the potter has painted and glazed it (i.e., glorification). God has promised that he will return in the person of the Son, Jesus Christ, for a second time. At his παρουσία (parousia), his appearing, he will glorify his people with new imperishable, immortal bodies, untainted by sin (1 Cor 15:35–57). The amazing thing is that these new, glorified bodies will never be smashed into pieces by sin again (Nah 1:9). We will forever contently sparkle, glimmer, and shine in the potter’s china cabinet of the heavenly kingdom. God, our father and potter, will do all this work for us (i.e., justification), in us (i.e., sanctification), and to us (i.e., glorification) if we will simply turn over the reins of our lives to him. If we will commit to him our broken pieces by faith, he will make us just as we were before we ever fell from his shelves. Allow the heavenly Potter to remold you, to reform you, to reshape you into his perfect image. As he does so, let this song, written by Eddie Espinoza, be your prayer:

“Change my heart, oh God, Make it ever true. Change my heart, oh God, May I be like You.

You are the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, This is what I pray.

Change my heart, oh God, Make it ever true. Change my heart, oh God, May I be like You.”3

Notes 1 New England is the northeastern region of the United States, comprising the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. It is the birthplace of the Millerite movement and the Seventh-day Adventist Church®. It is culturally rich and absolutely beautiful, especially in autumn! 2 The potter with his clay is a common metaphor used in the Bible for God and his people (e.g., Isa 29:16; 64:8; Jer 18:1–9; Rom 9:14–24). 3 For the story behind this song, see Lindsay Terry, “Story Behind the Song: ‘Change My Heart, O God,’” The Saint Augustine Record, November 19, 2016, https://www.staugustine.com/living-religion/2016-11-19/story-behind-song-change-my-heart-o-god.

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