When you think of a sturdy container, a clay pot is not likely the first thing to come to your mind. They chip easily, shatter into pieces upon sudden contact with a hard floor — I even accidentally backed over one once with our minivan, and there wasn’t much left. There are multiple ways of gussying up such a container, but those aesthetic improvements don’t translate into major structural improvements. We use such containers not for their durability, but their broad utility, ubiquity, and variety.
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of our knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)
In so doing he joins the scriptural tradition of both Isaiah and Jeremiah in comparing people to earthen vessels. From Isaiah:
Jeremiah later added:
(Perhaps the word “earthen” doesn’t immediately associate in your mind with “clay,” but as anyone who’s ever tried to dig a hole in Georgia can attest, clay is most certainly earthen.)
These continual references to earth and clay are undoubtedly a reminder of our own corporeal origins — Genesis teaches quite plainly God formed man of the dust — and as such, a reminder of our need for humility. After all, would you store your greatest valuables in a clay pot? Of course not. Paul even spells out that God puts this treasure, this light in the darkness, into us “earthen vessels” specifically to show the glory of that treasure has nothing whatsoever to do with its container. We are graced, in every sense of the word, by His presence, and have done nothing of ourselves to earn it.
“Well, Angela, it’s kinda depressing when you put it like that.” I hear you, man — I hear you. How does our being “earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us,” square with the doctrine that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God”? Or the third Young Women value, which is Individual Worth?
That’s an excellent question. I will try to have a coherent answer.
Prophets from Father Adam all the way to Russell M. Nelson have all taught and lived the principle of humility. Alma the Younger taught that humility is so important to the Lord that those who do not choose to be humble will be compelled to be humble, one way or another. As such, we can discover upon reflection that God has engineered our mortal experience in such a way as to encourage us to choose humility. Take, for instance, the veil of forgetfulness through which we pass to arrive here. For years, this particular part of the Plan of Salvation seemed to me to unnecessarily complicate matters, until I realized (thanks in no small part to a talk by President Henry B. Eyring) without the veil, cultivating humility would be significantly more difficult. Clearly, God saw the mistakes we would make as a result of that veil to be a far lesser problem than the arrogance that would more easily proliferate without it. The Atonement of Christ can cover a myriad of sins, but is utterly ineffectual in the absence of humility.
We are of infinite worth, the worth of our souls is great in the sight of God, but we need to be humble enough to recognize, as John the Beloved said, that though we may love God, it is because He first loved us. He loves us so much that he made us as clay pots, or earthen vessels, so we could learn humility — much in the same way a parent who loves their children gives them responsibilities appropriate to their age. Moreover, those of us who learn to recognize we are humble clay pots will be blessed with an immeasurable gift: “the light in the darkness,” which is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Paul had just finished explaining to the Corinthian saints that this is not a blessing afforded to everyone:
“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of Go, should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)
There are those who have not this light and knowledge in their lives because the small-g-god of this world (Satan, aka Jerkface) has blinded their minds to it. It is available to all, but the Father of All Lies is hard at work giving people various reasons not to choose it. Some he might convince they’re better than mere clay pots; others he might convince that they are such unprepossessing clay pots as to be unworthy of any such gift. Remember, the pride pendulum swings both ways.
“Okay, you keep talking about this ‘immeasurable gift.’ But what does it actually do?” Another good question, and Paul has answered it for us in the next verses:
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 15-17)
We are promised, so long as we do what we need to to bear this light, we will have peace, clarity, and perspective even in the most trying of circumstances, and those trying circumstances will ultimately be for our good. What an amazing blessing!
“But what if I break my pot, and the light leaks out?”
Another good question. Not one of us will make it out of this life unscathed in one way or another; all of us are touched by sin and/or death.
There is a Japanese art form known as Kintsugi, in which a broken piece of pottery is repaired by mending the breakage with lacquer that has been mixed with a precious metal. The finished product looks something like this:
This is an excellent visual metaphor for what the Atonement of Christ can do with and for even those with shattered vessels — we are incapable, of ourselves, to make them whole again, but Christ in His mercy has made it possible for our gaps and cracks and chips to be filled in with Himself, and not only made stronger for it, but at least as beautiful as we were before.
To reconcile is to restore friendly relations between, or to cause to coexist in harmony; to make or show to be compatible. None of us wants to go before God as a broken vessel. But through His Grace, and that of his Son, that which was once broken can be made whole; thus are we reconciled to Him.
- “Brighter and Brighter until the Perfect Day” -Elder Mark A. Bragg, April 2017
- “Encircled in the Arms of His Love” -Elder Neal A. Maxwell, October 2002.
- “Grateful in Any Circumstances” -Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2014
You can follow Angela on Twitter @angelisms.