The Story of the Potter and the Clay

This is a story about a potter and a sadly delusional piece of clay:

The potter is busy at work one day in his studio, forming a new pot with the easy skill of a master craftsman. As he turns the wheel the clay twitches suddenly under his hands and he hears a reedy and mutinous voice say “You did not make me!”

The potter is speechless, not primarily because his pot has begun to talk, but due to the blatantly ridiculous nature of the words it utters even as he continues to shape it.  Yet the small piece of clay continues, warming to his theme, “You did not make me. And furthermore, I don’t think you know what you’re doing! I could do a much better job.”

I’m not sure where the story would go from here, but I’m pretty certain that it wouldn’t end with the lump of clay usurping the role of master craftsman! The scenario is fun to imagine, but pretty absurd. Yet did you know that this is an illustration that God uses in the Bible of you and I, and our attitude to him?!

‘He Did Not Make Me’

Isaiah 29 is a prime example. The context is that God is speaking to the Israelites about the way that they treat him. Their foolish attitude towards their powerful God and creator has led to their punishment at the hands of other nations in war, and yet they still haven’t understood that their pride and rebellion is the cause.

This is God’s rebuke in v.16:clay potter

16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

These words may have originally been directed at Israel, but they speak just as powerfully to us today.

We turn things upside down. We try to shrug off the authority that God has just by virtue of him being God. He made us – every atom, every cell. He sustains the existence of the universe that we inhabit, and yet like the pathetically delusional clay, against all signs to the contrary we defiantly announce “He did not make me”.

We think that if we ignore him, he’ll go away and there won’t be any consequences.

‘He Has No Understanding’

Or perhaps we’ve reconciled ourselves to God’s existence, we’ve given him our allegiance – even our love and worship, yet in certain matters we continue to withhold our trust. Do we honour his wisdom as superior to our own? Do we obey his commands and trust his purposes? Or like the clay do we mutter “He has no understanding”? We might never put this into words but it’s an unconscious attitude that can pervade our everyday behaviour. (Don’t forget that the accusations of Isaiah 29 were made to Israel –  who knew God and claimed to follow him!)

I stumbled across this passage whilst searching for another, but it hit me powerfully because so often this is me –  struggling in vain against the reality of who God is and who I am, and whether I really trust him – deludedly trying to announce my independence and greater wisdom, even as the potter continues his work.

Hope for Rebels

Fortunately there is hope for rebellious pots like me! Against all expectations, the potter is infinitely gracious and forgiving, he keeps on moulding and shaping us. This is a rebuke that calls us to return. Just one chapter on in Isaiah 30:15 and 18, we read this invitation:

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…

the Lord longs to be gracious to you;therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.

So let’s humbly heed the warning and take God up on his invitation, acknowledging and trusting our maker and accepting his grace whilst it is offered to us.