Beautifully Broken: Metaphors of Spiritual Brokenness and Renewal
(Preached at Yaeil Theological Seminary, and Military Chapel— in Korea, October 2014)
Powerpoint Presentation (in PDF format) is available HERE
Pottery has a long history in human civilization. It also has a long history as a metaphor for human life. II Corinthians chapter 4 speaks of people, especially their bodies, as being “jars of clay.” This may be a metaphor… but it is also true. Genesis describes us, as being formed of the dust of the earth, not very different than jars.
A jar is fragile and so are we. One mistake and we can easily be broken.
The jar’s normal purpose is to store something more valuable than itself. Our bodies protect our spirit and although our bodies can break easily, properly cared for, they can protect its contents for many many years.
A jar and a person, however, are not simply work objects. They are also objects of beauty and honor, showing the skill of its creator.
Each jar and each person are specially designed for the purpose for which its creator has made them. Paul describes people in II Timothy 2:20 like pots or jars in which some are designed for special purposes, while others ordinary purposes.
A jar is a useful metaphor for people.
But what do you do with a flawed or broken pot?
1. Deceptive Repair. In ancient times, broken pottery can be repaired with wax. The wax can be blended in so that it is hard to see that it is repaired. If a person bought it and put hot water in it, the wax could melt and the pottery fail. One could sometimes look into the interior of the vessel and see if light comes in along the waxy seams exposing the deception. Vessels that were not deceptively repaired were described as “sine cera”– without wax. We get the English term “sincere” from this. Several times the expression “without wax” is used in the Bible in this figurative sense. One of these is Philippians 1:9-10 where we are told to be “without wax.” We are not to have our flaws deceptively (insincerely) covered.
2. Functional Repair. In more recent times, there have been improvements in technology… in glues. and it is possible to have functional repairs. Some epoxies can restore the jar to where it can be used for its original function. If the pot is decorative, of course, “super glue” can be enough. However, in these forms of repair, the goal is to still hide the flaws. The goal is still to make it look as much as possible like it did originally.
3. Beautiful Repair. In Eastern Asia, there is “golden repair”. In the United States it is sometimes known by its Japanese name…“Kintsukuroi” (or “golden repair”). It seeks a functional repair… but instead of hiding the flaws, it seeks to accentuate the flaws. Show the flaws. The idea is that the “flaws” repaired serve as a form of beauty that the unflawed pottery lacked. The cracks demonstrate the artistic skill of the repairer. Golden repair is a lacquer repair. Lacquer, commonly, uses tree resin. If the pottery is broken… the cracks would be expanded and filled with this resin. But gold, or silver or platinum, dust is added to the resin. By doing this the damage and repair are not minimized. Rather they are accentuated… made more visible. The result is often deemed to be quite beautiful. It is said that some potters would intentionally break pots so that they could then repair them in this manner. From the idea of golden repair has come a philosophy that beauty is seen not simply in the initial condition of a work… but in its history. A piece of furniture like a table or chair may not be at it most beautiful when it was first made… but after year of aging, usage, and repair.
I would like to suggest that Golden repair is a useful metaphor for our lives as people. While moldable clay shows God’s role in creating us… making us beautiful in His eyes… Golden repair describes how God transforms our broken lives. The transformation does not restore us to our original condition, but to something better. The repairs are not to be hidden, deceptively covered up, but visibly to demonstrate the power and the skill of God who restores and transforms things to a more beautiful, glorious state.
Golden repair glorifies the one who does the repair. If a person is repaired… restored by God… that restoration should glorify God. A good example of this is Jesus. In the story of St. Thomas we learn that Jesus in His repaired, restored, resurrected state still had the scars of His crucifixion… giving testimony to the power of the one who raised Him from the dead. I have heard many people talk about how when we are in heaven, we will all be perfect… flawless… but maybe not. Perhaps we will share eternity as beautifully repaired, restored beings through the power of God… not flawless, but better than flawless. Angels may be perfect… but I believe that God created us for something better than perfect. Sometimes “flawed beauty” is better than “unflawed beauty.”
It is entirely possible that we glorify God most NOT when we appear to have no flaws, but when those flaws point to God’s power and glory in their evident repair. A lot of people like to appear to be unbroken… but they fool no one. The breaks are there… hidden. They know people have waxy seams. And when things get hot, the wax melts and the flaws are exposed for the whole world to see. A wise person does not attempt to appear flawless.
All of us are broken in one way or another. Some of us are broken physically. Some of us are broken mentally or emotionally. Some of us are broken in spirit. Some of us are broken in relationships. That is okay. And it is okay if we show the scars of that brokenness. Because of God we have hope. And that hope is not that are brokenness is hidden. As Jesus, risen from the dead with the scars of his suffering, we may have scars that point to God as our great healer.
We need hope. We don’t need hope that God makes us like new. We need hope that God makes us better than new. We seek to is to allow the Spirit of God to beautifully repair ourselves and others. The flaws do not disappear. Rather the flaws become part of the beauty of each of us. The repaired flaws point to the power and skill of the repairer… God… to beautifully repair broken lives.