''Winging It' with Stan Smith
Originally posted on 10/11/2017
This will be necessarily provocative. I apologize in advance. I like to "get along", but to go against Scripture is not wise. So I'm going to lay this out as it is, admitting along with you that it's not "pleasant", and leave it in your hands to accept or deny.
We live in a world of upside-down pottery. No, that's not my idea; that's the idea from God. He gave the concept to Isaiah to express:
"You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, 'He did not make me'; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" (Isaiah 29:16).
"You turn things upside down!" That's the accusation. And what is upside down here? When the created deigns to dictate to the Creator. When the Creator is made out by the creature to be the same ... or even less. When the clay is what's important and the potter is required to submit to it.
This "potter" thing is a recurring theme in Scripture. Isaiah writes the famous "O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand" (Isaiah 64:8). (It was a popular little praise song in my day.) God uses the potter illustration in His instructions to Jeremiah:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear My words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel" (Jeremiah 18:1-6).
"Can I not do with you as the potter has done?" That's God's simple question, and the answer is not elusive or ambiguous. God (the potter) is willing, able, and authorized to do as He pleases with his creation (clay).
We're mostly alright with that concept. "Sure, sure, God is able to do as He pleases with His creation. Why not?" We're not entirely happy about it, but we'll even give the point that He is authorized to punish, to judge, to destroy. "Okay," we'll acquiesce with some discomfort, "we'll give Him that, too." The idea that God makes people He knows will go to Hell really is uncomfortable for us, but it is also, if we are consistent with Scripture, unavoidable. So we'll grudgingly surrender that as well. But here's where we will not go: Does God make people intended for Hell?
Before we go down this path, let's be very clear. So doing does not require that God forces anyone to Hell, especially anyone who would have otherwise not gone there. All that is required for this question to be answered in the affirmative is that God knowingly and consciously makes individuals who, for His purposes, will indeed be damned. That they do so by their own choices doesn't change the fact that He made them and made them for that purpose.
Okay, with that caveat, is there any biblical reason to conclude that God indeed might actually make people who are destined for Hell? Well, the easiest text is in Proverbs. "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble" (Proverbs 16:4). Now, unless my reading skills are horribly off, this text appears to plainly state that God makes the wicked for a purpose. In fact, it appears unavoidable. But let's go to another passage that comes from that same "upside-down pottery" theme. In Romans 9, Paul is explaining God's choice of who to save (Romans 9:8-13). The explanation is, as he is quite aware, somewhat offensive to the human ear. (Can we all at least admit that's true?) So he faces the standard objections. The first is "That's not fair!" (Romans 9:14-18). His answer is that God does whatever He wants. The second is "If God does what He wants, how can we be held responsible?" Or ... here ... let's see what Paul actually says:
You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make known His power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:19-23)?
The text is rich. Paul's first answer is "How dare you talk back to God?" It speaks of God's patience (we like that) and "the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy" and all that really, really good stuff. And it is in that same illustrative structure of potter and pottery.
Like Isaiah and Jeremiah before him, Paul uses the illustration of potter and clay to make a parallel between Creator and creature. First rule: the creature has no say. Stop! I know ... that is objectionable. But it is indeed the first rule. It flies in the face of our independent spirits, rubs up against our over-inflated sense of self-worth. But it is the first rule. The second rule is like unto the first: The Creator gets to do whatever He wants with His creation. And, according to the text, He wants to make some vessels "for dishonorable use". What use? Some vessels, according to the text, are made because it is God's will to "show His wrath and make His power known". Therefore, the Potter makes some vessels as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction." Not my words; Paul's. He makes other vessels for "honorable use". These would be "vessels of mercy" that He can use to "make known the riches of His glory."
The Bible isn't unclear. God actually makes people who are destined for Hell. He does so for a purpose -- His good purpose. He makes them just like He makes everything else. Our objection is "That's not fair!" Our objection is the clay demanding that the potter treat His pottery in a way that the pottery would find acceptable. Our problem is that we are upside-down pots demanding a hearing of the Potter. "Listen, God, you'd better correct these errors or we're going to have to take action! Maybe we'll deny it. Maybe we'll forbid it. Maybe we'll just kick you out entirely." It's not a good stand for a lump of clay in the hands of a potter to take.