Thursday, 16 July 2009

it's just clay... but with attitude

Paul asks one of his famous rhetorical questions in Romans 9:20-21, "does the potter not have power over the clay?" The expected answer of course is 'of course he does', however that is not the end of the story.

God asked a similar question back in the days of Jeremiah. “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the LORD. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! Jer 18:6. but this story about the pot will end in tragedy.

The pot is spoiled while it is in the potter's hand on the wheel. The scripture does not indicate what spoiled it at this stage; the focus is not the sickness but the cure. The potter 'made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make.' Jer 18:4 Clearly something interrupted the potter's progress and the potter sets to to remake it. I once worked with a potter like this for over a year in the Wedgwood factory in the UK and spent a fair bit of time watching the process and thinking about this passage of scripture.

The original destiny of the clay has not been achieved so the potter remakes it again from the start, into a shape that pleases the potter. The pot did not choose its destiny and even when things go wrong the pot did not restore itself to its God-given destiny. This is what Paul is saying in Romans; the destiny of the pot is not the choice or the responsibility of the pot. I think it almost certain that this Jeremiah passage of scripture was in Paul's mind as he wrote Romans.

But Paul would also have known how this passage of scripture continues. God declares that even though the pot has become spoiled God is able and willing to remake it. The pot does not choose its destiny. God applies the parable to 'the house of Israel' and says he has destined judgement against the people because of their rebellion but that he is willing and able to revoke that destiny and to replace it with blessing if they will turn from their sin. Their answer is shocking; And they said, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.” Jer 18:12. They rejected God's word... this pot has an attitude! This clay in the hands of the potter is rejecting God's new destiny and purpose.

In the UK learner drivers use dual-control cars. The instructor has a clutch (most of the UK's cars still have a clutch!) and a foot brake which means he can interrupt the action of the learner. The instructor has no steering wheel, only the driver has a steering wheel. The driver sets his course and chooses the destination, the instructor cannot change that. But the instructor can prevent the driver arriving at his destination by operating the second clutch and foot-brake. In this parable please be sure that to understand that I am making the driver the illustration of God, and the instructor the illustration of the wo/man who can choose to co-operate with the will of God or to reject it.

The teaching of Jeremiah 18 is that someone who receives the word of God still has the power to reject it and if he rejects it he will thwart the destiny (destination) that God had chosen. The clay cannot create its own destiny it can only co-operate with or frustrate God's pre-destination. The potter does have the power to choose a destiny for the clay but, in the parable that God revealed to Jeremiah, the clay has its own responsibility to respond and receive the word of God.

God has made his original purpose and 'destination' plain; The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Pet 3:9 It is not the will of God that any wo/man should perish, this is the plain testimony of scripture, but God has given a fearful power to members of the human race; we have the power to say 'No' to God and so to frustrate his purpose and destiny for our lives.

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