2015 Lent 25

potter

Jeremiah 18:1-11

I can understand why people might have a philosophical problem with today’s passage.

Have you ever had a person in your life who made seemingly everything difficult for you?  Maybe it was only your imagination, you tell yourself.  But no matter how great an effort you put forth, it never seemed enough.

Maybe you had a teacher who always seemed to give you an 85 on tests, no matter how much or how little you studied.

Schools are like that: they grade (i. e., judge) you by what you do wrong, not by what you get right.

You know how it is.  You pour yourself into research and study—you’re actually really interested in this topic— for once!—only to receive an 88 on your graded essay.  So you ask your teacher why; and the response is something like, “Well, you don’t deserve an A because you didn’t expand this idea enough”; or “your thesis wasn’t clearly stated in your opening paragraph”; or some such similar, pessimistic reason.

This attitude snowballs, of course: you soon find yourself critiquing the stuffing out of your trained-to-be-critical teacher.  “She splits infinitives all the time!” you complain to a likeminded grammar geek, for instance; “and she walks like a hippo!”

But I’ve digressed.  Point is, it’s all negative.  Your grade is based on what you didn’t do, not on what you did do.  And who needs that?

Or maybe it was a coach.  Ever have a coach stand there on the sidelines shouting at you only and always what you’re doing wrong?  It’s “choke the bat,” “keep your eye on the ball,” and “you’re not standing at the ready”; and never “good hit!” “great base running!” or “wicked throw!  What’s your mom feeding you for breakfast anyway?”  Always blah and never bling.

Or how about a boss?  Have you ever felt like you’re under the omnipresent eye of a controlling supervisor?  Have you ever been in a work situation that feels oppressive, like you’re trapped?  It might be just your imagination, granted, but seemingly every word, gesture, and other form of communication feels negative, designed to tear you down rather than build you up.

That trapped feeling, by the way, comes from a feeling of complete powerlessness to change your situation.  And what is utter powerlessness but a form of slavery?

I imagine Jeremiah felt this way: trapped; always criticized; never built up; perhaps even enslaved by the ideologies captivating his culture.

But I imagine, too, (with the exception—maybe the sole exception—of Jeremiah) the people of Israel felt this way toward God.

As I read today’s passage, I can imagine the Israelites’ response so vividly I can almost hear it:

“What?  We’re supposed to view God as a potter and ourselves as the clay?  But that means God can do anything he wants to with us.  That means God can beat us down so continuously that we end up not knowing which way is up.  That means that God will only and always ever criticize and judge us.  That means God will be watching over my every move, at the ready to say harsh words against me or, worse, to swat me down like a fly any and every time I step out of line.  That means God is like a calloused, crusty old teacher; or a coach with a vendetta carried over from his own abused childhood; or a horrible boss, pathetic because he is not sympathetic to those beneath his social status.”

Let me tell you, such a god is no god I’d want to worship either!

But that’s just it, isn’t it?  The people of Israel had been looking around at the gods of all the other nations for so long that they now saw God, their God, more as a dysfunctional human than as good, benevolent, sovereign, and perfect.

It’s one thing to be a lump of clay in the hands of a perfect potter, who wants to mold, form, and shape the best work possible out of that lump: it’s one thing to trust that God wants the best for you.

But it’s quite another thing to view the potter as imperfect, as we humans are: prone to become frustrated at the physical limitations of our human bodies; prone to turn to mind-numbing substances in order to escape, even if for but a moment, from life’s stressors; prone to temper tantrums and other losses of self-control, often at the slightest provocation.  In other words, it’s another thing to make God in our image.

No wonder the Israelites didn’t want to listen to Jeremiah!  They’d fashioned their god to be just like them—just as judgmental, critical, harsh, duplicitous, adulterous, and blind to the truly needy—only more!

And who’d want to trust a god like that?

Nevertheless, God molds, forms, and shapes.

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