What does it mean to be the people of God? The author of Lamentations says that at one time, the people of God were considered to be gold - precious, valuable, a status symbol, a statement of richness and wealth. Not everybody could have gold and not everything could be gold, so what was made of gold was something that mattered deeply and revealed who the owner was, what kind of means the owner had. God's people revealed that about Him; they were precious and were the evidence of how deeply God loved them and what kind of means He has.
But something changed, the author says, and now, God's people are regarded as clay pots. They're average, everyday sorts of things. They're common, the kinds of things you can run down to the Walmart and pick up rather quickly....and cheaply. Which is not to say that God's people had become cheap to Him; there's never a moment when you are not precious in His sight. It's just that somehow, they've lost their status as a status. They've become common folk, with a common use, with common lives.
Likely due to their own sin, which has separated them from the favor that made them God's showcase. Which is another difference we have to recognize between what is gold and what is clay - gold can be purified and washed and cleansed and kept and reused; clay, once sullied, must be broken and discarded. It cannot be restored.
When we read this in Lamentations 4, we can't help but think...wow. What a bold and clear statement about just how far Israel has fallen in God's sight. How terrible it is that they've come to this place, where they are just cheap, common pottery and no longer a precious jewel. It's stark. It's sobering.
And then the author adds just one little statement more about the pottery, and it changes everything. He says they were once gold, but have become clay..."the work of the potter's hands." Ah, yes. There is that.
Every piece of pottery, every "common" bowl or dish, every "cheap" and "generic" kind of thing that you could have was still painstakingly created by a craftsman. It started not on a shelf, but in someone's skilled hands. It was nothing but a lump, but look at it now. Common though it is, is has a special sort of design to it and it's one of a kind. There is not another one exactly like it anywhere, nor will there ever be.
It's easy for us to think about whether we're gold or whether we're clay, and what we most often come up with is that we're clay. We don't often feel like a treasure; we more often feel common. Cheap. Generic. We're the kind of something you can go down to the Walmart and pick up pretty quickly, a standard, run-of-the-mill human being kind of person that's not a symbol of God's wealth or goodness or even His love. We're just...clay pots.
But we forget that even that shows how loved we are, how carefully and skillfully crafted by a Potter. After all, at one point, we were just dust. Just specks of dust blown about by the wind and now...and now, look at us. Common though we are, there is a special sort of design to us and every one of us is one of a kind. There is not another human being exactly like you anywhere, nor will there ever be.
Maybe we are clay. Maybe we are. But if we are, that means always this - we are a work of the Potter's hand. And is that really such a bad thing?