the clay. the potter.
you know the verse that people love to mention during tough times? sure you do. romans 8:28: and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. lovely idea. but for some reason, it has always felt like a mere platitude. lacking kavod and legs and richness. lacking guts. lacking real life nitty-gritty. it is easy to say, even with the best of intentions, but where do you go from there? when i have heard it said to me, or said it to others, i admit that it can give me a twinge of emptiness. a hollow feeling instead of a hallow feeling. like i am glossing over or brushing under. or when on the receiving end of it, a feeling of shallowness. like it isn’t even scratching the surface of what i am experiencing. or some kind of lame personal development quote that is supposed to offer hope but leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. not quite enough. not as nuanced as it needs to be. biblical brush off.
i know that verse has more to it. and so, i went digging. i danced with it a bit. got into the marrow. and in my digging, i went down the rabbit hole of pottery. earthen vessels. clay. back to the earthiness of it all. the beautiful dirty mess that is humanity.
then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
2 corinthians 4:7
but we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
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.
and the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
when we say and hear that God is working things together for our good, instead of thinking about something WAAAAAAY far out there in some future that we can’t comprehend, or having a knee-jerk response that the statement is callous, making little of the painful or tough or tricky or sticky things of life. don’t worry. it’s aaaaallll good. it is going to be good. somehow. somewhere. hang in there, buddy.
what if we thought about it from the perspective of the potter. the one doing the working. and we, we are the clay in the potter’s hand. we are lumps of earth. messy at times. filled with potential. warmed by the touch of the divine hand. picked up, shaped, molded, cast, created. susan howatch wrote a passage in her book absolute truths that leveled me. that brought it all into proper light. listen to the heart of the potter. listen to the heart of the creator.
that is what romans 8:28 means. read that quote again, as though the creator and sustainer of the universe were speaking that to you. you are the clay. and not just in a potter’s hands. maybe that doesn’t take it far enough, deep enough. you are the raw material in the artist’s hands. the artist is using it all. the good. the bad. the ugly. the broken. the glory. the shadow. and making it a sculpture. giving it meaning. it is sacred. it is all sacred. it isn’t just that “things are working for good…” it is that it ALL has purpose. it is all precious. nothing is wasted. nothing is without significance. all the bits are precious.
God started a work. created the dust and dirt and mud. breathed life. and God is still creating. the artist of all continues the messy and glorious work of moving it somewhere. there is an arc to it. all the squishiness of life. the pieces on the floor. the crevices. that is all brought together into a beautiful work. the story is being retold. recapitulation. God is bringing all things under the Christ.
in the moment, when the blood is flowing, the sweat is rolling, the tears are streaming, it can seem trite to say that “God is working it together for good”. how about we wade in deeper. lets take it beyond. to the fact that God is making something beautiful. every fragment, every discard, all the pain, the cracks, the wrong turns, the mistakes, the errors, the disasters—those things have meaning. why? because God gives it meaning. re-using. re-shaping. re-casting. it all belongs. nothing is wasted. nothing is without significance. nothing ceases to be precious to the GOD OF ALL. your pain isn’t wasted. your struggles and tears aren’t without significance. you are precious. you are clay, yes. and you are a work of art.
can i get an amen?