Iron Pillar, or Wet Clay?

October 17, 2010

OT SS Lesson #41

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 [1981], 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?

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5 Responses to Iron Pillar, or Wet Clay?

  1. Paul on October 17, 2010 at 7:31 AM

    Great question! This is one of those dualities in the gospel that I am so fascinated by.

    For me, at least part of the answer is in pride (which, admittedly, I may not recognize at first). If I hold my view with pride, then I am likely more stiff-necked rather than iron pillar.

    Elder Uchtdorf reminded us in his Priesthood session talk about pride that the key measure of pride is that it is about self-elevation. Very difficult to measure, except on a very personal level.

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  2. Mike S on October 17, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    I think it is really difficult to tell the difference, and much of the time we can only appreciate things in retrospect. Perhaps the thing that has helped me most, therefore, is non attachment.

    If we get too attached to the”good”, we suffer when were don’t have it. If we worry too much when things are”bad”, we also suffer. We therefore need to accept where things are as what we most need in life at that particular time and just focus on being a good person.

    While this is somewhat of an Eastern philosophy, President Hinckley at least alluded to it when he talked about life being a roller coaster and we need to accept the good and the bad.

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  3. Stephen Marsh on October 17, 2010 at 7:37 PM

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not/should not change, courage to change the things I should, and the wisdom to know the difference ;)

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  4. SilverRain on October 18, 2010 at 7:29 AM

    Clay that is too soft can’t be shaped, either.

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  5. Troth Everyman on October 18, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    If the adversity or opposition is coming from a person, I think it depends on the person’s intention (which is so hard to determine).

    For instance, one may have an instructor who is breaking you of erroneous beliefs in order to help you learn new material that is incompatible with the previously held beliefs. Or, one may have an instructor who is belittling and controlling to get you to conform to their belief system, or for some other ulterior motive. In this circumstance, identifying the character of the instructor is key. If we identify an instructor who falls into the latter category it may behove use to pick a new instructor.

    If our instructor is God?

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