“ ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.’ So I [Jeremiah] went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.” Jeremiah 18:2-6
As I have reflected on the lesson God taught Jeremiah through the potter and the clay, it is sobering to think about God’s Sovereign control of our lives. God we are told ‘does what He pleases’ (Daniel 4:35) and it is so humbling to ask ourselves the question “Can the LORD not do with us what this potter does?”
When you are in the midst of difficulty, pain, sadness, sorrow and other such pressures and challenges upon our lives our response is often to ask a number of deeply searching questions of God; ‘Why is this happening?’ ‘Why me Lord?’ ‘ How can these things be happening to me?’ ‘How Long O’ Lord?
It is quite natural to experience feelings of anger or disappointment with God. He is in Sovereign control isn’t He? Our experiences are no surprise to God for is it not true that “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). We read in Proverbs 16:9 that “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” We have a God who is Sovereignly in control of our world and each of our lives. He is the potter and we are the clay. Scripture affirms that He is Sovereign over the good and the bad (see Ecc 7:14, Isaiah 45:7 & Lam 3:38). Jerry Bridges in his book ‘Trusting God’ writes “He is in control of our adversity, directing it to His glory and our good.” This is a hard teaching to accept and quite likely the last thing we need to hear when we are going through tough times but Lamentations does bring us a helpful caveat to this.
Lamentations 3:31-33 32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. 33 For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.
God is leading each of us on our journey and His twofold priority for our lives is to bring glory to Himself and bring about our good. Paul speaks of that “good” in Romans 8:28-29 which says;
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brothers and sisters.
We love to quote verse 28 but we often fail to read the following verse which helps us to understand what this ‘good’ is all about. Paul is not necessarily saying that happiness or comfort will come to those who love God. Rather he is saying that God is conforming us to the likeness of Christ and He alone knows what experiences and circumstances are needed to achieve that in our lives.
Whilst I would want to be the first to acknowledge these things to be hard to stomach especially when the going is tough, I think we also have to acknowledge God’s Sovereign right to work out His purposes in our lives in His way and His timing. Again Jerry Bridges writes;
“In the area of adversity, the Scriptures teach us three essential truths about God – truths we must believe if we are to trust Him in adversity. They are ‘God is completely sovereign’, ‘God is infinite in wisdom’ and ‘God is perfect in love’. Someone has expressed these truths as they relate to us in this way: “God in His love always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom He always knows what is best, and in His Sovereignty He has the power to bring it about.”
We will always have questions and the Psalms teach us that it is good to bring our questions and inner wrestling before God. Yet we must also acknowledge our own propensity to think that we know better than God, to think that we could do a better job than He could or to challenge God’s motives. In doing so we challenge His sovereignty, wisdom and love/goodness. Yet what right do we as the clay have to say to the potter that he should have done things differently? The challenge to trust God will surely be a daily battle but the God we worship doesn’t change, He is the same yesterday, today and forever. His sovereignty, love/goodness and wisdom are as absolute as they have always been and they always will be. One day however (in the new heavens and the new earth if not before) we will come to understand the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of what God has been doing in our lives to work out His plan for our lives to conform us to the likeness of Christ. Indeed in the words of Philip Yancey in his book Disappointment with God “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
I am not generally the kind of person who asks these kind of questions (my upbringing drummed in some deep foundations about the character of God) but I would have to say that some days this is still a real battle. I also know from first hand experience that trusting God through tough times is a significant and daily battle for Debbie. The way forward for all of us will most likely not be easy and there is likely to involve a fair bit of pain, sadness and loss on the way but one thing we know for sure is that through all things God will be with us. I finish with the words of Isaiah 43:2-3 in which God says;
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.