Have you ever taken a pottery or ceramics class? In my hand-formed ceramics course that I took in college, the first assignment was to make a collection of small vessels — pots, vases, bowls, things like that. The first attempts were lumpy, unusable things. One collapsed in on itself, but it looked like a cat with a squished-in nose so I drew whiskers and eyes on the clay and kept it. Some that I thought were good enough broke in the firing. By the time I was finished, I had a small collection of “earthen vessels” that could be used to hold something, but were not much to look at on their own. It is these oddly shaped pots that I thought of when reading this verse:
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. (2 Cor. 4:6-7)
We are not fit to hold “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” But our very inadequacy serves as a helpful reminder that this glory does not belong to us, and that we need to be re-made by Him. Thankfully, God is a much better potter than I am. He isn’t limited by the fact that clay pots can’t be reformed after firing. We can be fired and re-molded multiple time, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6)
Trusting The Potter
At a certain level, we are literally made of earth. The clay and potter analogy extends farther than the verses that plainly describe God as our potter.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7)
Remember, I pray, that You have made me like clay. And will You turn me into dust again? (Job 10:9)
He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. (Ps. 103:14)
We are earthen vessels that God is sculpting in His own image. We are being made and remade to be fit vessels for holding God’s Holy Spirit and the very mind of Jesus Christ.
But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand. (Is. 64:8)
Sculpting can be a painful process. In my ceramics class, we made hand-thrown tiles. When making tile this way, you take a lump of clay and drop or throw it onto a flat surface, pounding it until it flattens itself out enough that you can pat or roll it smooth and cut it into tiles. If the clay was animate, I suppose it would have thought this was torture, but it is a necessary step to make usable tiles. If something goes wrong, you squish the clay back up in a lump and start throwing it all over again.
Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! (Jer. 18:3-6)
Sometimes, we might think we don’t like what God is turning us into or we find the sculpting process too painful. That’s why we need to keep our eyes on the goal, and remember Paul’s assurance “that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
“Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ Or shall your handiwork say, ‘He has no hands’? (Is. 45:9)
Antidote to Pride
Paul said God has shone His light into our hearts, through we are only imperfect earthen vessels, so “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” God has chosen to share His mind and presence with His called-out people. That incredible gift could either puff us up — “God chose me because I’m something special” — or inspire humility — “if I’m special, it is only because God made me so by choosing me.”
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 27-29)
Pride is one of the things God hates. I doubt very much that He would indwell a person whose habitual attitude is one of arrogance. In Proverbs 6, the list of things “the Lord hates” begins with “a proud look” (Prov. 6:16-17). In Psalms, God says, “The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart, Him I will not endure” (Ps. 101:5). We certainly do not want to foster an attitude that is unendurable to God.
Christ assured Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). I wonder if the flip-side is true as well, that Christ’s strength cannot be “made perfect” in someone who thinks they do not need Him. The rest of the verse would seem to bear this out: “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” We may be tiny vessels made of clay, but we need not be ashamed of our weakness because it allows Christ to live and work in us.