I was reading through some of my old mission notes the other day, and came across a fantastic little lesson. It all starts with this scripture from Jeremiah:
“O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel” (Jeremiah 18:6).
The Potter’s Process
To those who may have taken ceramics in high school (or have seen the movie “Ghost” more than a few times) this may be old news. For the rest of us, though, this is how the ceramics process works.
First, you have to cut and wedge the clay. Wedging is done by rotating the clay and pressing it onto a hard surface. When done correctly, wedging homogenizes the clay and gets all the air bubbles out.
This is very hard work, but work that is absolutely critical. Air still in the clay will expand during firing, and the piece will explode in the kiln.
A piece is then molded and dried before making its’ way to the kiln, where firing takes place. Firing is normally done in multiple steps. The initial firing, referred to as bisque firing, is meant to harden the clay in order to make glazing easier. This first firing takes a few days, as the oven temperature slowly rises to almost 2000 degrees, then slowly falls before pieces are removed from the kiln.
If the temperature rises or falls too quickly, or if the wedging was poor and air bubbles were left in the clay, the piece will explode. It will be completely destroyed, and will likely destroy or damage pieces near it in the kiln.
Our Response to the Divine Potter
As our Heavenly Potter works us into the shapes he desires, we can respond in two ways.
The first response is to rebel against his efforts, to push back against the wedging and the molding. Regarding this response, Isaiah asks,
“For shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?” (Isaiah 29:16; see also 2 Nephi 27:27).
“Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?” (Isaiah 45:9).
Isaiah essentially points out how silly it is to fight our Potter’s hands. It would be absurd for my own clay to start talking back as I formed it into a pot or dish! It’s dirt! It has no idea what’s going on, or what is best.
This is why it’s so much better to respond in the second way, with humble acceptance. Contrasting the intelligence of a human potter and mud is an apt metaphor. Compared to our Heavenly Father, and just like the dirt, we don’t have a clue.
Additionally, the clay has no real value until it is molded. We could never become apart from the molding, pursuing our own course, what our Heavenly Potter could make us.
In the words of Isaiah, how better is it to say to the Divine Potter,
“But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
In his hands we can be shaping into something special. As he wedges us, and we feel the pressure of being stretched and refined, let us remember his purpose. He wants to prepare us for the kilns ahead, and give us the fortitude to withstand the heat.
Firing and Repentance
Once clay is kilned, it’s practically permanent. While it’s possible to become malleable again, it’s so much harder than before the clay is fired.
First, scraps need to be soaked. And soaked. And soaked. The moisture was taken out of the clay over a long, hot process, and it will take a long, long time for moisture to return. It does not happen overnight.
Then the clay must be reconstituted. This is sometimes done with a machine that crushes and mixes the scraps into clay that can once again be molded and shaped.
But all is not done even after reconstitution. Again, the clay must be wedged, and wedging reconstituted clay is far more difficult than wedging new clay.
What can we learn from this?
First, we learn that repentance is hard. It is possible, and it is worth it, but that does not mean that it is without a price. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said,
“I am convinced that… salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that [we] have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. [We] have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.
“Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and sacrilegious. But I believe that [we], to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price.
“For that reason I don’t believe missionary work has ever been easy, nor that conversion is, nor that retention is, nor that continued faithfulness is. I believe it is supposed to require some effort, something from the depths of our soul.
“If He could come forward in the night, kneel down, fall on His face, bleed from every pore, and cry, “Abba, Father (Papa), if this cup can pass, let it pass,” then little wonder that salvation is not a whimsical or easy thing for us. If you wonder if there isn’t an easier way, you should remember you are not the first one to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot grander asked a long time ago if there wasn’t an easier way.“
The soaking, and the reconstitution, and the wedging after a life of sin will be difficult, and painful.
But I repeat, it is worth it. Isaiah tells us,
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Jesus Christ is our Savior. Should we, God forbid, reject his careful molding and shaping, his atonement provides for us to be soaked, reconstituted, and wedged so that we can be all he wants us to be.