One of the great metaphors that the Bible uses is that we, God’s people, are clay, ready to be moulded by Him, the Potter. In Jeremiah chapter 18, God tells his prophet, Jeremiah, “Go down to the potter’s shop and I will speak to you there”. While there, Jeremiah sees that ‘the jar he was making did not turn out as he’d hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay and started over’. I love that God has always spoken to us in pictures. I love that He reveals his heart to us in everyday scenes.
At this point in Israel’s history, Jeremiah is a lone voice speaking God’s judgement over a people who have turned from Him. God says to Jeremiah “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand” (v6) It does not matter how far we run from God’s best for us, what circumstances make us think we must be out of His plan; we are in His hand. Hold that truth and let it heal your soul. You are in His hand. Believe me, I have been in some dark places where I’ve felt like an ugly lump of clay and it has not been enjoyable. But according to this metaphor, perhaps that is the best place to be. In this place, we are soft and sensitive to His touch, ready to be remoulded into something that pleases Him.
God is in the business of softening. I want to have a soft heart, one that is open and vulnerable to His word, His discipline and His correction. I want to be willing to lay everything of myself down, for His glory.
In the next chapter, Jeremiah is instructed to buy a clay jar, and take it to some of the leaders and priests. God says: “As these men watch you, Jeremiah, smash the jar you brought. Then say to them, ‘This is what The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: As this jar lies shattered, so will I shatter the people of Judah and Jerusalem beyond all hope of repair” (v10-11)
Notice the difference? Once a jar has been fired, it cannot be simply remoulded, it has to be smashed completely.
Life can be a ‘furnace of suffering’, it often seems that our circumstances and experiences do nothing but harden us. Life teaches us to be tough and strong, to put walls up and guard our vulnerabilities. When we do this without God, we become like fired clay. We are never too hard for God to ‘rework’ us, but sometimes things need to be shattered.
There was a time in my life where I deliberately cultivated a hard heart. It was partly a consequence of the furnace of suffering, but mainly my own choices. I was deeply hurt, and I chose to ‘fix’ myself the world’s way. I pushed people out. I tried to prove that I didn’t care about my body, so I abused it with drugs, alcohol and sex. These cheap, quick thrills never satisfied, they never made it into my walled-up heart. I told myself I was protecting it from being hurt, but I ended up numb.
A friend told me about the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. It’s called ‘kintsukuroi’, you should look it up. The pottery is more beautiful for having been broken. This astounds me. God had to shatter me, like the jar in Jeremiah. It hurt. My pride was shattered. My stubbornness was shattered. My shame was shattered. My unforgiveness was shattered. But God wove His gold through the whole of my life and made it more beautiful than it ever was before. He revealed again my soft heart (the one that had always been there) and He gave it back to me. Today, my imperfections and vulnerabilities are in plain sight. My prayer is that nothing in me becomes hard enough to shatter; my wholehearted desire is to be continually in a place of remoulding, safe in the Potter’s hand.