Most people are familiar with the imagery of a giant treasure chest full of gold. While the historical accuracy of that design may be a bit skewed—research suggests the boxes were much smaller than what’s usually depicted in swashbuckling epics—the fact remains that treasure chests are widely known to be pretty secure places to keep one’s valuables. Forged of iron or sturdy wood like ash, cedar, or mahogany, and banded usually with copper or iron, these chests were used to transport coins for trade, irreplaceable papers and private letters—and, of course, the infamous pirates’ hoard. While they weren’t indestructible by any means, these chests were trusted to keep important items secure.
Compare that iron-and-wood box to, say, a polymer vase. They’re often beautifully rendered, but whether or not you’d keep something valuable inside…well. Cat owners like myself know firsthand that vases aren’t safe when nudged off a height; I’ve spent too many years furiously protecting a beloved clay vase from the curious paws of my kitties. I know better than to put anything valuable inside, just in case they one day slip past my guard.
Humans often like to think of themselves as wooden chests—secured with a lock, sturdy and unbreakable, reinforced with iron all around. But that’s not how God describes us; in fact, the Potter who fashioned us describes us as “jars of clay.” I’ve known lots of people who have taken a pause at that—maybe even felt a little put-out by it. It doesn’t necessarily fit with the vision of Christians as rebuilt, reborn, renewed creatures with a supernatural tough shell around them; but God specifically calls His people earthen vessels with treasure inside of them.
Oh, how fragile we humans are. This has never been more apparent to me than with the loss of a close friend in 2017. Sickness led to death in a matter of months for someone who loved and lived God’s radiance in the world. Like all of us, she was a jar of clay with the treasure of God’s holy spirit, power, and purpose inside her. And after receiving the news of her death—after the initial shock wore off, and grief set in—I started thinking about jars of clay.
God knows what we’re made of better than we know ourselves. He crafted us, after all. And despite knowing the flaws in these polymer persons, the seams and air bubbles, the weaknesses and flaws, He puts His great treasure in us. Fragile, shoveable, bendable, breakable human beings, made up of clay, and yet the Master of the Universe, Creator of All Life, the Great Potter chooses to put His treasure in these earthen vessels. These jars of clay. He made us, and then He made His light shine out of us, and He says clearly in His Word that this glorifies Him.
We are witnesses. We are, each of us, our vulnerable, sick, uncertain, unenduring selves. Yet He chose to place His treasure in us so we can glorify Him through who and what we are. I learned that lesson so much from my friend who continued to smile and spread her unique, godly joy even while she got sicker and sicker. She was a beautiful jar of clay, molded with purpose and love by the Potter’s hands—just like all of us.
And the comfort of the hope that lives for every believer is that, when it finally gets to be too much—when life nudges us off the shelf at last, and we fall, and we crack right open—God sweeps up the pieces. As the fallen wait for the return of Christ, God is working in the background, a craftsman at the kiln, piecing the broken vessels back together and forming them into something more beautiful. He’s turning the broken pottery into heavenly vessels made of something so much stronger than what was there before. Something flawless that will endure for eternity.
But until that time comes, we have this treasure, this trust of the Potter’s love and purpose inside of us. And we keep it safe inside these breakable, unenduring, but beautiful, jars of clay.