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Though he is the potter and we are but clay, this does not keep us from complaining about our station. When the God of heaven and earth, the One who made all things, asks if the clay will ask of the Potter, “Why have You made me thus?” the implication is crystal clear—clay is not supposed to do that. Indeed, it is comically out of place. The Apostle Paul takes up this imagery from Isaiah to answer that thorny question at the very heart of God’s sovereignty over men—why does God find fault with us, when He is sovereign over us? Paul does not so much answer the question as remind us questioners of our utter lack of standing to ask it. But even we who embrace Paul’s answer, who delight in God’s sovereign power over us, still find ourselves grumbling against the Potter.
We are willing, of course, to leave our eternal destiny in His hands, remembering that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. We know ourselves well enough to know that if we were left to ourselves, we would speed headlong into the abyss, and so we give thanks that the Potter reshaped us in our regeneration such that we would freely but unalterably embrace the work of Christ on our behalf.
What it means that we are but clay and He is the Potter, however, runs much deeper. Paul is not just affirming that we need to be changed by God, though that is certainly true. He is not just arguing that God has the authority to do so, though that is certainly true as well. Instead, Paul is asserting that God has absolute authority over us, that we are not only under His power but under His ownership. We belong to Him. He may—indeed, He will—do with us exactly as He pleases for precisely His purposes.
It was our first, but by no means our last confrontation with heartbreak. My wife, Denise, and I were at the doctor’s office for a common rite of passage, to get a first peek through the magic of sonogram technology at our latest child. My deepest fear going into the room was that somehow we would accidentally find out whether it was a boy or a girl. We were among those rare birds who prefer to wait. That all changed, however, as the tech’s smile dissipated, and she excused herself to fetch the doctor. He entered and took over the machinery. Thirty seconds later, he let us know that our baby had died. I held Denise’s hand as he explained what had happened medically, and then he excused himself to give us a moment alone. As we held each other and our tears mingled together, I quoted Job to her: “The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
I was not being cavalier, not dismissing our mutual sorrow. Neither was I throwing up my hands as if to say, “Well, He’s God. Sometimes He’s good to us. Sometimes He’s mean. There’s nothing we can do about it.” Instead, I was trying to enter into our very purpose. The Lord does give. He does take away. His name is to be blessed, however, not ultimately because of what He gives or what He takes away but because of who He is. He is worthy to be praised for His being, before He has blessed us or cursed us, before He has done anything at all. He is praiseworthy not because He is the perfect means to our own ends but because He is the end Himself.
That—His glory in who He is—is the ultimate reason why He makes some vessels for mercy and some for judgment. That—His glory in who He is—is the ultimate reason why He opens wombs, closes wombs, and numbered our baby’s days. What we have to learn, however, is that—His glory in who He is—is the ultimate reason for our own existence. Our purpose, our telos, our reason for being, is not merely that we would speak words of praise while we live our lives but that our lives and everything in them would manifest His glory. He does not exist for our sake. Rather, we exist for His glory.
Job was, at the beginning of his story, the very picture of what our culture would call success. He was surrounded by family who loved him. He had servants in his employ. He was a man of character, and he was likely one of the wealthiest men in the world. In an escalating series of brief moments, as tragedy followed calamity on the heels of a dark providence, he lost it all. Well, almost all. The character remained. It’s true that near the end, he slipped and brought his accusation against God. This piece of pottery did ask the Potter, “Why have you allowed my life to be smashed to pieces?” Quickly enough, though, he repented, recognizing whose life it actually was. He came to grasp that his calling wasn’t to pursue his wealth or his health, but that he was to pursue first the kingdom of God. His kingdom is that place where our Father’s absolute authority is joyfully recognized, humbly submitted to, and fervently celebrated, whatever our circumstances.
When we lay down our lives and take up His cross, we put to death our own agenda. His kingdom is our all in all. And this ought to put to death our every fear, for our single end is certain—He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. He is bringing all things into subjection. He will come again, and every knee will bow, every tongue confess that He is Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord.