When a potter sets out to make an object, he first takes a lump of clay and plops in onto his wheel. At least, that’s the way it’s done these days, when clay is obtained commercially and not from the clayhole out in back of the shed. In the old days, as I’ve been told, the potter would get a quantity of clay, dump it onto a table, and begin sifting through it with his fingers in order to locate pebbles and other debris that had to be removed before the clay could be worked. Then he’d have to either let the clay dry out a bit in order for it to be pliable, or add water to it for the same end.
But whenever he places that clay on the wheel, only he knows what the final product is intended to be. All you or I could see would be a quantity of clay. But that’s okay — it’s supposed to be only clay at this stage of the process, and it’s perfectly a lump of clay.
Then he starts to turn his wheel (old-time potters around here use foot-treadle wheels). With calm certainty the palms of his hands and his fingers press against the clay, which rises up and takes shape as he directs.
Not until the process is well underway can you or I tell what the potter is making — a bowl, a vase, a mug… but the potter knows. And even in those early, unidentifiable stages of the process, the clay is perfectly being shaped in his hands. At each stage of the process, the work-in-progress is perfect, exactly what the potter wants it to be at that moment.
You and I, the Bible tells us, in the Psalms and in Jeremiah, are clay in the Potter’s hands. We are not now what we are going to become, but at this point in the process, we are perfectly what we ought to be in His hands. Not yet perfected, but becoming so.