A second creation account in Genesis 2:7 says that the LORD God formed the man Adam out of the dust of the ground (adamah) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. I remember my professor in Bible 101 saying that the image of the Hebrew word is that of God at a potter’s wheel, molding a lump of clay under his hands until it has conformed to the shape God has in mind.
This isn’t an easy task, at least not for the clay! First the clay has to be dug up from the earth and removed from where it has so peaceably resided. I think of the trauma of childbirth. We come from the safety and comfort of the womb where sounds and lights are all muted and darkened. Suddenly we are thrust out into a bewildering brightness and a cacophony of sounds and images. No wonder we scream with our eyes closed when we take our first breaths!
Once the potter has the clay in hand, he works the clay to drive out any stray air bubbles that linger inside by slamming the clay repeatedly onto a plaster slab. Life does the same to us also, as events slam into us: as a child we might have to deal with being picked last for a team or with being bullied. As a teen we deal with sweetheart issues, friend problems and peer pressure. As we get older, we have grown up problems that slam us against this plaster slab: divorce, death, disease, job loss, infertility, addiction, caretaking our parents, and other events of the human condition.
We begin to ask the ultimate questions at some point in this beating: What is the meaning of my life? What is the purpose of my life? Is this all there is for me? What good have I done? Will some good come from all this pain? Is there more to life that this present condition? Is there any reason for me to live with hope? As the final slams of the clay drive out all the remaining bubbles of air, the clay is ready for shaping on the wheel.
The person of faith doesn’t have to wait for old age to ask these ultimate questions, since they can be asked at any age. Likewise, they don’t hold God accountable for the pains in their life, for they know that God uses the circumstances of their life to work for the ultimate good. God doesn’t cause the pains, but God uses our present pains to prepare our lives for something more.
“We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8). When life has been hardest on us, we most feel like the clay that has been slammed against the plaster slab. We no longer have any air inside us, so we feel dead inside. Whether we are 29, 39, or 69, God is ready to mold us to his purposes on his wheel. At this point, if we are people of faith, we ask God to reshape us into his image, for we are now ready to give up on our quest to make ourselves into our own image. The clay is ready to be worked by the Master Potter.
The death of our striving for self is what God was waiting for, so that he could breath new life into our lifeless bodies. His reforming us is part of our rebirth and restoration to the image of God that was our original birthright, but was lost to the stain of generations of sin, including our own.
A potter makes a vessel on a wheel by taking a prepared lump and throwing it down hard onto the wheel. When God gets my attention, I usually feel like this—slammed! But then, I’m pretty hardheaded and usually need wake-up calls. The gentle stirrings in my heart usually aren’t enough for me.
The clay isn’t exactly centered, however, so the potter places one hand flat on top and the other hand vertical on the side of the clay. He kicks the wheel and begins to press down and in with equal pressure in both hands until the clay between is “centered.” Most of us don’t spend enough time letting God center us, and that has adverse effects on the final product. If the clay isn’t truly centered, the pot being raised will begin to wobble and its walls will warp out of shape. It won’t be either a beautiful or a useful pot, but will be destroyed and thrown back into the clay pits for the recovery of the raw materials. The process of slamming will begin again.
Some of us “clay pots” don’t learn very quickly because we seem to have a mind of our own: “you turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay? Shall the thing say to its Master, ‘He did not make me’, or the thing formed say of the one who formed it ‘He has no understanding’?” (Is 29:16). God had to get me to a place where I had lost everything in which I had ever trusted or hoped in, a place in which “I was emptied of air,” before I could finally see my one true hope and my one steadfast trust was Jesus Christ. I had to be prepared by loss so that I could be formed into something new and useful for God.
My prayer for you is that you are smarter than I am and you learn from my life. But even if you are just like me, the good news is that God can make the sorriest lump of clay into the most beautiful and useful pottery vessels because he delights in creating beauty!