Keeping Your Hands to Yourself

In some traditions and translations, the Spirit is referred to as the Holy Ghost. There are places within scripture where the fashioning of a human life is compared to a potter forming clay. I don’t know about you but combining those two images gives me a very strange picture of how the Spirit works in our lives.

It also puts a Righteous Brothers song in my head.

I have a little bit of experience working on a potter’s wheel, enough to know that I have no latent talent for spinning clay into works of art and also enough to know that it is messy work.

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” [Philippians 2:12-13]

If we could gratefully remove the sexual undertones tied to the scene that I am refusing to explicitly mention, we are the lump of clay that is thrown into the center of the potter’s wheel. The centering is key, as nothing that comes afterward can come from clay that has not first found a center on the wheel. That center is the work and person of Jesus Christ. The spin of the wheel is our life, with its various internal and external forces working upon the clay. Finally, our hands engage the clay.


In our own strength and skill, that clay will be a wobbling mess threatening to decorate the studio in mud in very little time. It is at this point that we are reminded that we have been given that Holy Ghost to guide our hands (portrayal by Patrick Swayze optional) and that it is the workmanship of God that is truly shaping the clay.

Where does the fear and trembling come in?

If it is God who is creating this masterpiece out of the former filth of our lives, fear and trembling is a proper reaction when we try to intervene and shape the clay through our own means and designs. This applies when we are trying to shape ourselves as well as when we try to stick our hands on the wheel of the lives of others.

“…spiritual love proves itself in that everything it says and does commends Christ. It will not seek to move others by all too personal, direct influence, by impure interference in the life of another. It will not take pleasure in pious, human fervor and excitement. It will rather meet the other person with the clear Word of God and be ready to leave him alone with this Word for a long time, willing to release him again in order that Christ may deal with him.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

When we give our brother the word of God, we have given him a tool that was designed by God to shape the clay, but once we have offered it, we need to step away since it is still God who is the one who wields the instrument.

When we use tools that are not meant for the clay or decide to apply our own hands to the clay that is the image of another which has been entrusted to God, we risk throwing the entire sculpture off balance.

Forming the pottery on the wheel is all about balance. Especially early on, the clay will fight with the potter who must wrestle with the clay in order to have it submit to his hands. Even after the potter has overcome the clay in this initial struggle, there are still forces trying to pull the creation this way and that.

There are no other hands that we can trust to form us than those of the potter who is God. The potter who sees the final creation even in the lump of clay. The potter who controls the spin of the wheel, who has thrust our hands into the clay and works through them.

Though we can call attention to something that has become unstable in the life of our brother, our greatest ministry to one another is often that of pointing. We do not place both of our hands onto the spinning clay but use a single finger to point our brother back to the center that the entire pot springs from, and to the potter whose hands we can trust in forming our being.

Given recent events, apologies if I gave the impression that this post was about something else… 🙂