This interpretation research paper was done for my religion course at Saint Leo University for which I got a 97%. It is all based on just a couple of scriptures from the bible and my research on them. This course on salvation has been one of the most provocative and thought provoking college courses I have ever taken and it has pushed my skills as a writer and thinker like no other. I do not expect everyone to agree with what I wrote here, but I think many might find it interesting.
Does The Kiln of Life Not Alter What The Potter’s Hands Creates?
Kim E Morrison
Saint Leo University
Does The Kiln Of Life Not Alter What The Potter’s Hands Creates?
Did you ever wish that you could have conversation with God? I am quite sure many of us do and I am certain God knows that I do. I hope he also knows that I do not wish to have his audience anytime soon because, after all, this blissful ignorance to our creator’s ways that we all share should have some tangible virtue. If any conversation with God were to take place, I am certain that many of our questions would relate to the bible and these two verses would most certainly be on my list, not because I think they are more important than any others in the Bible, but because God’s response sounds angry: Rom. 9:20-21-20 “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel [a]for honorable use and another [b]for common use?” My first question to God about these verses would be, why does man attempting to use one of the gifts, though limited they are, you endowed humanity with make you angry? Should our father in heaven not be proud that we mere humans are attempting to go beyond our natural limits to try an understand only that which you hold the answer too? If these two questions I posed to God, did not get my butt tossed on the elevator to Hell immediately, I would then be forced to point out that if we were made in your image then the clay the potter made us out of is quite unique because it can change over time. For the new piece of pottery God’s hands created would not be the same piece after a lifetime of use. Which goes to my title question, Does the kiln of life not alter what the potter’s hands create?
These two verses along with many others from the bible have been wrestled with by many scholars, theologians, and saints through the ages. One the most notable Saint Augustine of Hippo discussed his views thoughts on it several times in different pieces of his written work. In his “Rebuke and Grace” Saint Augustine states that he can not answer why “God gave them, humans, the love by which they lived as Christians did not give them perseverance” (Augustine, Rotelle, & Teske, 2001, p. 119). Saint Augustine then states that in saying that he does not know he is not being arrogant, but is recognizing his limits (Augustine, Rotelle, & Teske, 2001, p. 119). Later when free choice of human is mentioned or brought up, he states that is not in accord with the grace of God, but in opposition to it. Whether someone perseveres in good is not because God granted it, but because the will of humans brought it about (Augustine, Rotelle, & Teske, 2001, p. 119).
My human mind may well be limited as many of the Saints suggest and incapable of understanding God’s inscrutable judgements, but it is good enough to see Saint Augustine’s grossly flawed logic. Previously he states that God gave humankind love, but did not give them perseverance and later he states that if we persevere in good it is not because God granted it, but because the will of humans was able to bring it about. First, if someone has the will to do something, they are determined. If they have persevered in doing something, it was because they were determined. Determined in some form is a synonym for both the word persevere and will, so you cannot have one and not the other. Second, If I, a member of humankind, has the capability or will to achieve goodness after I have sinned, why then do I not have the will to avoid sin in the first place?
In his work “The Predestination of the Saints” Saint Augustine tells us that faith from the beginning to completion is a gift from God (Augustine, Rotelle, & Teske, 2001, p. 163). He then states that the gift of faith is given to some, but not to others and that the fact that it is not given to all should not disturb any believer who believes that because of original sin that “all have entered into condemnation” (Augustine, Rotelle, & Teske, 2001, p. 163). Saint Augustine thinks this is just because no one could blame God if no one were set free because our condemnation was built in at birth. In other words, those who are saved have reason to thank God for his mercy, but those who are not saved have no reason to complain because we were already condemned at birth because Adam sinned. Saint Augustine believed God’s anger toward us was just and that his mercy to a few is great, in his thinking, salvation illustrates God’s mercy and damnation shows God’s justice, so God’s judgements are inscrutable and we should not be questioning them (Augustine, Rotelle, & Teske, 2001, p. 163).
First, the reason some humans would think they have reason to complain here is not because of themselves, but because we are talking about condemning a being at birth. In the limited human mind, we are hearing that our father in heaven is condemning what we perceive as innocence. A human being would be even less tolerant of the notion if they knew Saint Augustine created or advanced this idea of original sin. Two, if a human knows that he or she is already condemned to damnation at the start because of Adam’s sin, would he not be more compelled to commit sin than to refrain from it. In other words, if you call humankind reprobate from the beginning because you believe human society cannot be perfected, have you not set into motion a self-fulfilling prophecy for all of humanity? Would that not make God’s mercy to some seem even more merciful and his judgement of damnation to the rest of us seem less egregious?
In “Calvin’s Institutes” John Calvin tells us that all the sons of Adam, humankind, because of original sin fell into a state of wretchedness. Calvin then goes on to talk about the power of God is such that it cannot be hindered. Calvin does pose a powerful question by saying, “How could he who is the judge of the world commit any unrighteousness?” (Humpries, n.d., p. 321). Using (Prov.26:10) “The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool and rewardeth transgressors.” Calvin suggests it is God’s pleasure “to inflict punishment on fools and transgressors though he is not pleased to bestow his spirit on them.” Calvin goes on to state that humankind suffers from a “monstrous infatuation” because we seek to subject something to our limited reasoning that is beyond his ability to understand. What God knows and only God knows is what Calvin refers to as the “secret counsel” of God (Humpries, n.d., p. 322).
Calvin does appear to see original sin a lot like Saint Augustine does. Calvin tells us in no uncertain terms that what God does is part of his “secret counsel” and that his power cannot be hindered and that what God does is not within bounds of our limited human reasoning. In answer to his question I do not believe that God is capable of unrighteousness. What I do believe is all men past or present are capable of misinterpreting God’s word to suit their beliefs. After all God’s word had to go through man to arrive in a book man refers to as the revealed word, so man is not questioning God, but rather other men’s interpretations of God’s words.
A far less known writer named Dave Bovenmyer has an interesting interpretation of Romans. 9:20. He tells us that we should be “careful not to think that the analogy fits reality in every single detail” (Bovenmyer, n.d.). He explains that Paul is not telling us that we are senseless mounds of clay without the ability to reason or resist God’s will, nor is Paul saying that God creates some people to make them evil (Bovenmyer, n.d.). He also states that Paul is not saying that God turns some men toward evil because of some secret plan that is opposite of his revealed will. What Paul is doing is using an analogy “in relation to God’s freedom to show mercy-to have mercy on one (like Moses) and harden on another (like Pharaoh)” (Bovenmyer, n.d.). It does seem like the next two verses reinforce his evaluation because they talk of “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory” (Bovenmyer, n.d.).
While Bovenmyer’s interpretation of these verses might sound simplistic to some, they certainly raise less questions and less push back from readers than the interpretations of Saint Augustine and Calvin. The idea that it may be in relation to mercy is made more sensible when he uses the examples of Moses and Pharaoh because they are severely opposite poles, like good and evil.
The issue I have with Saint Augustine’s and Calvin’s interpretations is that they are intertwined with their belief in the original sin. The idea that each of us is damaged by the sin of our original physical father Adam and because of it we are all doomed to suffer the same fate from birth which is eternal damnation and we cannot be saved unless our course is altered in some way by divine intervention or by God’s grace. We cannot help but commit sin because it is in our nature to sin and we have no power over if we sin because as stated earlier we lack the will, so we are all condemned to fail. As a result, we are all reprobate in the beginning because of Adam’s sin, so our lives, no matter how pure we lead them, are ill fated journeys toward destruction unless our merciful God judges us fit for heaven and elects to save us. If not, we stay reprobate and are doomed to our predestined fate. The trouble with this is that Saint Augustine set up the idea of the original sin which in turn gave birth to a gnostic thinking that states that man is forced to sin by his nature. The early Church believed man could choose between his nature because of his fee will. Another problem with this view is that all which is connected to man is built around the concept of fate. A concept that judging by “The Banquet of The Ten Virgins” Discourse 8, Chapter 16 that bothered some of the early Church fathers to the point that they questioned it with the following: “Now those who decide that man is not possessed of free-will, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, and her unwritten commands, are guilty of impiety towards God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils. For if He harmoniously orders the whole circular motion of the stars, with a wisdom which man can neither express nor comprehend, directing the course of the universe; and the stars produce the qualities of virtue and vice in human life, dragging men to these things by the chains of necessity; then they declare God to be the Cause and Giver of evils. But God is the cause of injury to no one; therefore fate is not the cause of all things” (“CHURCH FATHERS: Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse 8 (Methodius),” 1886).
Certainly no one now would want to imagine that God could be the cause and giver of evils or be the cause of injury to anyone because we correlate this kind of handy work with Satan, but a change of thought in those of that time who put fate in the forefront of theological discussion could have set the stage for the cruel and superstitious age history has shown us. Those periods of time where Catholics called people heretics and burned people at the stake for not believing exactly as they did and not subscribing to the thought in concert with their belief that the state had to be submissive to the Church. The Catholic Church wanted this because they believe in their tradition and that the Catholic Church is the repository for all of God’s grace. Anyone that didn’t go along with their entire program could be persecuted even when many of their basic beliefs coincided with Catholic thought of the time.
Given the religious wars in Europe and the history of persecution and violence associated with religious belief is it any wonder why the founding fathers of this country, who were of European heritage, went to great lengths to insure state sovereignty by installing the concept of separation of church and state right in the Constitution our nation was built on. Our founding fathers did not want the same thing that went on in Europe to continue here in the new world. One could argue that religions violent history only serves to prove that humankind is automatically bent toward sin, but you cannot blame humankind for submitting to a built-in weakness when you have others putting the rules so far in opposition to each other that what one calls a righteousness action would be called sinful action by another. In other words, you cannot say burning someone at the stake for their beliefs is a righteous action when the God you claim you serve clearly states in his Commandments that “thou shall not kill.” There is no quid pro quo, no grey area, and no exceptions in this language. Another thing telling humankind that they are all set for eternal damnation, regardless of how moral they live their life, because in God’s inscrutable judgement we deserve it because of Adam’s sin, the purveyors of this belief are canonizing a self fulfilling human prophecy that was created by religious figures long ago. One could call me a heretic for thinking this way, but I am sure many have considered this in one way or another and judging from pop culture it too has created our view of Satan. For example, in the film “Devils Advocate” you have Al Pacino, the Devil in this film, saying the following. “I do not make things happen. Free will, like a butterfly wings once touched they never get off the ground” (Lemkin & Gilroy, 1996). Just perhaps, as suggested in this film, Satan does not have to make things happen, not just because of the evil that may dwell within our nature, but because men with good Godly intentions and strong beliefs set those wheels in motion a long time ago.
Augustine, Rotelle, J. E., & Teske, R. J. (2001). The Works of Saint Augustine (2nd Release). Electronic edition. Answer to the Pelagians, IV: To the Monks of Hadrumetum and Provence: Volume I/26. Charlottesville, VA: InteLex Corporation.
Humpries, T. L. (Trans.). (n.d.). Many are called, but who is chosen. Winona, MN: Professors choice.
CHURCH FATHERS: Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse 8 (Methodius). (1886). Retrieved from http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/062308.htm
Bovenmyer, D. (n.d.). Romans 9 and Unconditional Election | Dave Bovenmyer’s Writings. Retrieved from https://davebovenmyer.com/2013/06/23/observations-on-romans-9/
Lemkin, J., & Gilroy, T. (1996, January 18). Devil’s Advocate Script at IMSDb. Retrieved from http://nldslab.soe.ucsc.edu/charactercreator/film_corpus/film_2012xxxx/imsdb.com/Devil’s-Advocate.html