Did you know that the Prophet Jeremiah and I have a lot in common? You can read about it in Chapter 19. The Lord tells Jeremiah to get a clay jar and go to the East Gate of Jerusalem. Then he throws it down, breaking it into little pieces, and warning the people that if they don’t straighten up, they’ll suffer the same fate as the jar. I think I remember doing the same thing once, at the east gate of my kitchen. Gave the same warning, too!
Jeremiah apparently received his prophetic calling at a young age, so I don’t know if he had an occupation. But if he did, I’ll bet he would have been a great potter. The Lord used the imagery of clay, pottery, and cisterns repeatedly to send his message through this prophet. One of the most beautiful metaphors in all of scripture is found in Chapter 18. Here, the Lord sends Jeremiah to the potter’s house, where he watches this artisan as he forms a clay vessel. During the making of the piece, it is marred, and so the potter starts over. As we know, in order to do this, the potter must destroy the pot, reducing it once more to a lump of clay before reforming it as he wishes it to be. The lesson we are taught by this scripture is that the Lord, the Master Potter, may find it necessary to remake nations or individuals in order that the final product might be as he has designed.
I’m not sure how I feel about this lesson. There is a tension between the doctrines of agency and submission, as seen in this quote from the lesson manual:
“There are many vessels that are destroyed after they have been moulded and shaped. Why? Because they are not contented with the shape the potter has given them, but straightaway put themselves into a shape to please themselves; therefore they are beyond understanding what God designs, and they destroy themselves by the power of their own agency. [These people] have to go through a great many modellings and shapes, then … have to be glazed and burned; and even in the burning, some vessels crack” (in Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer , 270).
Earlier in the lesson, we learn about the adversity which Jeremiah faced in his calling as prophet. Though he faced opposition, he was to be strong and refuse to submit, continuing to preach God’s message. “Jeremiah’s life was full of sorrow, but his response to trial can teach and inspire us,” the manual teaches. “He was beaten and imprisoned for prophesying against the kingdom of Judah. His life was constantly threatened. But through all the adversity and opposition, Jeremiah was like an ‘iron pillar’ (Jeremiah 1:18). It seems to me quite difficult to tell when I am being molded by the potter’s hands and should respond with submission, and when I am being tried with adversity and should stand as firm as an iron pillar.
When do I stand up for my own principles, admittedly formed from my own experience and limited wisdom, and when do I back down, realizing that I’m being reshaped by the Master’s hand? Readers, how do you tell the difference?