When the Clay Instructs the Potter

When the Clay Instructs the Potter

Clay doesn’t protest to the potter. A flower vase doesn’t instruct its maker to give it some handles or to widen the mouth or to paint it teal. Nor does an unborn child tell its parents to make it tall, blond, and handsome. The Maker has both power and freedom to do as he or she pleases.

It is interesting that Isaiah 40-55 is thick and rich with creation accounts. Our most profound texts about God as Maker and Creator are found, not in Genesis 1-2, but here, in an address to God’s people who are living in Exile.

Could it be that the Exiles are being bombarded by a competing story of creation, The Gilgamesh Epic? This ancient narrative credits the Babylonian gods, Tiamat and Bel-Marduk, with the creation of the heavens and earth. These gods, made by hands and enshrined in the Babylonian temples, are hoisted on shoulders and paraded up and down the royal highway. The people gather to celebrate them as the creators of the universe. This narrative of creation is believed by the Babylonians and is now being overheard by the captives in Exile.

Most scholars believe the book of Genesis was compiled from ancient sources into its final form about the time of the Babylonian Exile. Editors assembled the oral traditions of Moses, priestly writers, and historians, and composed Genesis much as we have it today – against the background of Exile. It makes perfect sense because the theological point being made in Genesis 1-2 is not a scientific explanation of how the world came to be, but rather an alternate narrative of creation to the Gilgamesh Epic. It is a theological declaration in similar story form that in the beginning, God, not Bel-Marduk or Tiamat, created the heavens and the earth. To use Genesis 1-2 to affirm or deny scientific theories is to royally miss the whole point.

As God responds to the protest of his people over Cyrus the Persian being God’s “Messiah-coming-to-deliver-them,” God reminds them that he is their Maker, Creator, and Redeemer—and that he can do it any way he pleases.

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?
I made the earth,
and created humankind upon it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.
I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness,
and I will make all his paths straight;
he shall build my city
and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,
says the LORD of hosts.”
(Isaiah 45:11-13)

Is your God-box big enough for this?

Here we are in our nailed down, fixed, local, settled, stable faith. We know how God moves. We know that God

comes only through hymns,
speaks only through the King James Version,
blesses only people who dress up for church,
visits only churches with pews,
accepts only one interpretation of Genesis 1-2,
approves communion taken only with little plastic cups and rubber bread,
supports only Republicans,
speaks only English,
loves only heterosexually-oriented people,
agrees only with our denomination.

Do you know any of these people?

There’s an old Celtic story about a monk who died and was entombed in the monastery wall. Three days later, the monks heard noises coming from inside the tomb. When they removed the stone they found the old brother alive. He was full of wonderment, saying, “Oh brothers, I’ve been there! I’ve seen it! And it’s nothing at all like the way our theology says it is.” So they put him back in the wall and sealed the tomb again.

Are we open for God to move through Cyrus?
To do a new thing in a new way?
To come through movements and people that unsettle us?
Can God be God among us?
Might Exile open us to the God who does new things?

What if God is speaking again …

through ancient practices
through young leaders
through radical new ideas
through scientific discoveries
through some Democrats
through loud music
through social justice?

Could we hear him over our own protest that he save us the way we want to be saved?

A few years ago I attended a conference sponsored by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). I sat with a friend as Francis Collins, world renowned leader of the human genome project, spoke of his faith in God and his findings in science. My friend holds a degree in science. At the conclusion of the presentation he said to me, “How sad it is that my church does not allow me the freedom to embrace the best findings of science because they do not fit in the small box of creationism. What we just heard would take a God so much bigger than their little box.”

Today’s post is an excerpt from The Church in Exile: Interpreting Where We Are.

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