Theology in the unlikely places

But I thought God was supposed to make my life beautiful…

Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel“And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.” Jeremiah 18:4

The wailing prophet, Jeremiah must have been a visual person.  Most of his powerful messages to the nation of Israel came out of simple imageries and allegories staged by God.  In this passage, God asks Jeremiah to come to a potter’s house where the potter is at work. As the prophet was admiring how the potter’s hands crafted a glob of clay into a beautiful pot, something goes terribly wrong.  “The vessel was spoiled in the potter’s hands”. The verse doesn’t quite explicitly blame the potter for messing it up nor does it blame the clay.  The english translations use a passive voice to explain the mishap.  Nevertheless, the point of the text is about what happens next.  The potter changes his design, simply because he can or in other words, the clay had very little say in how it was going to be shaped.  At that moment, God speaks to Jeremiah comparing Himself to the potter and the nation of Israel to the clay.

Although this judgment message was directed at the nation of Israel, it was addressed to individual listeners.  Repentance was and has always been an individual affair.  The divine potter who has the power to reshape nations is in the  business of reshaping individual lives as well.  And hence, it is not entirely unfair of the preachers of our time to transplant the national context of this passage and apply it to individual spirituality.  But our sermons and bible studies on this passage is rarely about the sovereignty of God or repentance from sin.  Its usually about a domesticated God who is in the process of making something beautiful out of the trials in our lives.  A process that God completes when our lives become this metaphorically beautiful piece of pottery.  A comforting thought indeed but unfortunately that misrepresents the potter from this passage.  Life is chaotic and it may very well remain chaotic from our perspective till our final day on this planet.  The vessel is neither “reworked” for the betterment of the vessel itself primarily nor for the benefit of other vessels. The beauty of this vessel is in the eye of the potter and yes, he has the sovereignty to shape it however he wants for his glory.

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