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Potters, Parents and Idolatry: Isaiah 45:9-11

Woe to you who strive with your maker,
earthen vessels with the potter!
Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, 'what are you making'? or 'your work has no handles'?
Woe to anyone who says to their father, 'what are you begetting?' or to their mother, 'with what are you in labour?'
Thus says the Lord, the holy one of Israel and its maker:
Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands?
(Isaiah 45:9-11)
The image of a pot speaking to the potter as he turns it on the wheel is hilarious. Apart from the the misshapen clay actually talking in the first place, there is also the audacity of the clay to be saying 'excuse me, but you've missed a bit!' A kindly potter might say 'I'm not quite finished yet and please hold still while I work.' Even worse is the picture of a child challenging their parents over the event of their conception or birth. My two year old daughter frequently questions my judgement when it comes to biscuit distribution, sun block, or bed time. But to question your parents at the point at which you enter existence or begin to breathe seems absurd in the extreme. In its context in Isaiah this passage is a rebuke to the people of God who are unwillingly to accept God's plan to rescue them with Cyrus, a Persian (and very pagan) king. The idea that God would use an outsider does not fit in with their theology. The irony is that their complaint against Cyrus is presumably that he is a pagan idolator and yet, by insisting that God is unable or unwilling to do something that God is in fact doing, they themselves have committed idolatry. When the clay questions the potter, or the baby her parents, they place themselves above the ones to whom they owe their existence and identity. The ones who are engaged in the very act of forming them. The people of God were not just refusing to let God shape them, they were telling God how to be God.

This is why this blog is not about expanding 'my theology' or 'a theology'. Any theology that looks like a system or complete method for understanding/knowing God is idolatry. It is making God with our own hands/minds instead of letting God be God. That's why I prefer to talk about 'doing theology'. Theology should not be static, a problem solved, a puzzle completed, instead it should be fluid and dynamic, a response to God's reality as it is encountered day by day in personal experience, the community of faith, and in the Bible. This is why it is necessary to read the Bible as a stranger, not assuming that you know what you will find there, because only then can we be allowing the potter's words to shape the clay of our lives. If we read the Bible as a book that we already know what it says and means then all we do is shape the potter into our own idea of what they should look like. I dont want to worship a God I have made. I want to worship the God of transcendant reality, not a figment of my imagination.

Such an approach also breeds humility. Like the half formed clay or the child being born, God hasn't finished with me yet. Of course I dont understand everything about God, or what God is doing with me or the world, but that is OK, because we're a work in progress. Aren't you looking forward to seeing what the master potter and father of the universe has in store?


  1. I think that it is as people grow up that they begin to build the structures around their beliefs. Children, and children of the faith, just soak everything in - God works in their lives to transform them and grow them. However, there comes a point where people think they have arrived; where people know what they believe and anything that doesn't fit with that becomes 'heresy' (I'm speaking politically, economically, and culturally, as well as theologically)

    Ironically, this problem often lies with us parents and leaders (please don't think I am drawing a parallel with God in this instance), who ourselves think that we have arrived in our understanding. Jesus speaks about how it is a very bad thing to lead one of his little ones astray. Let's not limit God to our own feeble understanding.

    Thank you Jonathan for the challenge posed by this post.


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