Paper vs. Clay

Jeremiah 18:1-12

“So I went to the potter’s house, and sure enough, the potter was there, working away at his wheel. Whenever the pot the potter was working on turned out badly, as sometimes happens when you are working with clay, the potter would simply start over and use the same clay to make another pot” (Jeremiah 18:3-4, The Message).

Not being a potter myself, this analogy doesn’t feel natural to me.

When I put my little bit of artistic ability to use, I draw.  I take a piece of paper and use black ink to make something come out of it.  Like Mickey Mouse, for example.  Disney is just in the air when you grow up in Florida, so I’ve used circles to draw Mickey’s smiling facing hundreds of times.

mickey1

But even with all that practice, sometimes I mess up.  I shudder and my hand jerks, and there’s a line where no line should be.

mickey2

Sometimes this is fixable – maybe I can use the line to change Mickey into Minnie…

mickey3

But sometimes I make an irreparable mistake.  I sneeze at a crucial moment, and the wayward line is just too bad.

mickey4

When a drawing reaches this point there’s nothing to do but tear it off and start over with a fresh piece of paper.

Because this is my experience as an artist, it’s tempting to think that this is how God works in our lives.  God creates something out of us, and if we mess up a little – well, God can work with that.  But if we go too far – commit some heinous sin – then God might have no choice but to rip the paper off, to give up on us altogether.

That is not how Jeremiah’s vision goes.  Jeremiah’s vision isn’t paper; it’s clay.

I have a tiny bit of experience at pottery from my childhood art lessons.  I remember working with a piece of clay and making mistakes and being able to remold it.  I also remember that – for me, the novice – there did come a point where I had to give up completely, where I had manipulated the clay beyond the point of redemption.

But I was just a novice.

It’s different for an experienced potter.  Alan’s aunt Susan is one of these, a potter by profession.  I called and asked her this week, “Is there ever a point where you have to give up on the clay – you’ve just messed up too badly?”  She almost laughed and said, “No, never.  Even if it gets too dry, you can put some water on it, let it sit for an hour, and then come back to it.  The clay never gets so messed up that it can’t be used.”

And if that’s true for a potter and a hunk of clay, how much more is it true of our Creator God and human beings?

There is no sin we can commit that causes God to tear us off and throw us away.  Jeremiah saw this truth in his vision 600 years before Christ, while God’s people were in on the brink of exile.  They were breaking the first commandment by turning away from God and turning toward little fake gods.  God was terribly mad at them, so mad that God would allow the Babylonian empire to take their Promised Land before Jeremiah’s ministry was done.  And yet this is Jeremiah’s vision of God’s work with them:  a potter working with clay, where no mistake is fatal.

Well, there is one thing that’s fatal, one thing that will keep the Divine Potter’s hands off of us.

“So, tell the people of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem my Message: ‘Danger! I’m shaping doom against you, laying plans against you. Turn back from your doomed way of life. Straighten out your lives.’

“But they’ll just say, ‘Why should we? What’s the point? We’ll live just the way we’ve always lived, doom or no doom’” (Jeremiah 18:11-12, The Message).

What’s the one thing that will get God to stop working on our lives?  If we don’t want God to work on our lives.

God gives us the free will to choose.  God doesn’t come in uninvited, pinning us down and manipulating us whether we like it or not.  We can choose whether we want God to mold us like clay… or not.

Allowing God to mold us seems like the obvious choice.  Who wouldn’t say “yes” to that deal?  Plenty of people, apparently.  In Jeremiah’s day, God’s people said “no” – even on the brink of destruction.  And if we’re honest with ourselves, we say “no” too.

Because allowing God to work out our lives requires us to change.

When a potter molds clay, the clay is made different.  Sometimes the clay is (painfully) broken down first before it’s worked into something beautiful.  If we agree to let God be our Potter, we are signing up for that kind of change.  We will have to love people we don’t even like.  We will have to help people we are reluctant to help.  We will be called to spend our time and our money differently.  We will have to change.

And most of us don’t want to change on someone else’s terms.

If you’re teetering on the edge – thinking about turning over the lump of clay that is your life to God, but hesitating, let me bear testimony.

I tell you, there is no mistake you can make that will render you useless to God.  Whatever you’ve done, God can work with it… if you allow God to work.

And I tell you, the process of molding and shaping you may be long and painful, but it is good.  It is worth it.  Over time, it’s amazing to look back ten, twenty, thirty years and see how God is working more love and less hate, more forgiveness and less judgment, more God and less you.

God wants to come into your life and make a work of art out of you.

Will you say yes?

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