The hardest question – can I trust that God is now doing what “seems best to him?”
by Doug Pagitt
Old Testament Reading: Jeremiah 18:1-11
For Sunday, September 5, 2010: Year C - Ordinary 23
“Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD, ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel’” (Jeremiah 18: 5 -6).
This narrative from Jeremiah is a famous and influential one. People understand it and can relate to it. It has a familiar sense to it. Many of us have formed a simple pot in a junior high art class and can relate to the story from the potter’s perspective, but this story is also discomforting to many people.
What Is the Point?
While we may understand the will of the potter to shape a pot, the notion that God’s engagement with nations is to this activity seems petty and capricious. Maybe it is that junior high art class again. I know that I didn’t really see myself deeply invested in the candy dish I made in 7th grade. I think many of us feel that if God is going to behave toward entire nations like a potter deciding the shape of a pot then what’s the point?
Think of Pakistan
Now, read this passage through the lens of our modern day philosophical perspectives — determinism, free will, “God as an independent actor” theories — and it again changes the way many hear this story. It’s hard for us to hear this story and not think of Pakistan, Hurricane Katrina, Indonesia, and Afghanistan. It’s not a story that brings the care and love of God for the world to mind.
It seems that if one puts the emphasis on the line, “’This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you,” we will have one reading of this story. However, if the emphasis is on the line, “so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him,” then the conversation shifts. The second line seems to make it onto a lot of church needlepoints, but not so with the previous line.
The Hardest Question
The hardest question for me to answer in this text is can I trust that God is now doing what “seems best to him”?
When it comes to these sorta-formal, non-personal, psueo-professional introductions, Doug likes to refer to himself self as a social and theological entrepreneur (something he would never do if you were to meet in person). Doug is the founder of Solomon’s Porch -a holistic missional Christian community in Minneapolis (solomonsporch.com). For more on Doug and his latest book, Church in the Inventive Age (sparkhouse press, 2010), check out http://dougpagitt.com/.