Fired Clay

Fired Clay

Monday, March 18 2019


As we say here in Colombia, he sold me “a cat instead of a hare” (ie. He “ripped me off”!)


When I bought it, I had no idea. It seemed just as lovely and solid as the two candlesticks that I had bought as well. It was only the next day when I noticed that something was not right: the two candlesticks were there, nicely placed on my patio table where I had put them the day before – but the small clay pot was lying in pieces beside them. Why? What happened?


I went out to inspect the damage: it had rained during the night, but the rain didn’t seem to have affected the two candlesticks at all – on the other hand, what the day before had been a lovely little pot, now was just pieces of broken clay lying in a puddle of water on the table. I still couldn’t understand: why had the candlesticks survived last night’s rainstorm? And why hadn’t the little pot survived as well? I picked up one of the candlesticks and I looked at it carefully: yes, everything was fine. It was whole just like I had left it the day before. Then I picked up a piece of the broken pot, and I immediately understood: the clay disintegrated in my hands, because the rain had softened it. While the two candlesticks had gone through the entire clay process, the last important step being fired and baked at very high temperatures in a special oven, the little pot had only been air-dried; when it rained overnight and the pot got wet, the clay simply returned to its initial state, wet clay, and the pot fell apart.


The fact that the little pot had been decorated with lovely figures and then covered with lacquer, made absolutely no difference to its solidity and its durability; its appearance rather was deceiving, pretending to be something tough and long-lasting, when in reality it was just the opposite. Yes: the potter had sold me “a cat instead of a hare” – the pot looked lovely, but it was completely useless.


And it was useless because the pot had not gone through one of the most important steps in the clay pot-making process: the firing or baking step – in a special oven, at extremely high temperatures and for many hours – so that it might become hard, strong and long-lasting.


While the oven is heating up and then later cooling down again, the temperature changes produce dramatic changes in the clay as well. Where before it was a soft and very fragile substance, the clay becomes as hard as stone, impenetrable against all water and wind and time. Beginning with a temperature of around 900ºC, the clay particles begin to fuse in a process called “sintering”. When a clay vessel has been completely sintered, it is no longer considered “clay” – it has become “ceramic”.


Every mound of clay, however much it has been prepared and cleaned, and however it has been shaped into a beautiful and useful vessel, still has some charcoal, organic materials, sulphur and other impurities in it. These only come out at very very high temperatures.


And that is how it is with us as well, clay vessels moulded by the heavenly Potter.


All that is soft and fragile within us – our faith, our patience, our perseverance, our character, our hope – needs the heat of tribulations to strengthen us and to produce within us an eternal weight of glory (Romans 5:3-4 and 2 Corinthians 4:17). We need the furnace of affliction to consolidate and harden us, and to make us impenetrable to all the difficulties and suffering in this life. We need the process of “sintering” in order to be transformed from one “material” to another, from our weak and sinful humanity “into [Christ’s] image with ever-increasing glory…” (2 Corinthians 3:18)


In addition, we need the furnace at very high temperatures so that the impurities that we still have within us can come out. “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isaiah 48:10) – “For You, God, tested us; You refined us like silver.” (Psalm 66:10) – “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” (Proverbs 17:3)


Thanks be to God, “… He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come out like gold.” (Job 23:10) All throughout our lives, we are subjected to very high temperatures in many different furnaces of great afflictions and sufferings, but God knows all too well just what we need, He knows exactly how much we can bear, and He has every intention of forming us into pure gold and refined silver. “And I will put this third into the fire, refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, “They are My people”; and they will say, “The Lord is our God.” (Zachariah 13:9)


And lastly, God’s wonderful promises spoken to us in 1 Peter 1:6-7:


“Rejoice in this,

even if now for a little while

you have had to suffer various trials,

so that the genuineness of your faith—

being more precious than gold that,

though perishable, is tested by fire—

may be found to result in praise and glory and honor

when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

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