This episode is part of my podcast series DEAR ATHEIST… If you prefer, LISTEN NOW.
I am reading the book of Jeremiah now and, earlier in the week, I read Chapter 18. It was about the Potter and the Clay, and I found it rather interesting and enlightening. It reminded me of the post I wrote in 2017, How Humble Is Our God That He Should Listen To A Man, where I addressed the accusation of evil laid on God by Moses in his writing of Exodus 32. I told myself I’d have to read that post again because, in Jeremiah, God Himself spoke of doing ‘evil’ to His people, the Israelites. This is the section of importance (verses 1 to 12):
The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.
Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.
And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.
At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;
If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;
If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.
Now therefore go to, speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you: return ye now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good.
And they said, There is no hope: but we will walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart.
Earlier, in my Bible reading of Isaiah, I came across Isaiah 45:7, which cross-referenced Amos 3:6. These verses also explicitly state that God is the creator of evil, as well as of good. And also, Amos 3:6 actually asks whether it is possible for evil to come upon a city, and God not to have had a hand in it??? It makes you think… And I had to put it on Instagram for responses. The responses I received were both diverse and interesting.
In Jeremiah, God tells him to tell the Israelites that He is devising evil against them, in the same way that a Potter has the power and liberty to turn the clay in his hand to anything he desires; whether for honour or dishonour. And this God pronounces, because they chose to repay His kindness with evil. And so, God even says that He would REPENT of the good He had initially sought to bestow on them… And so, we see that even good can be repented of. And in this sense, repentance doesn’t always mean to turn from wrong to right, but to change your mind and your actions.
I think a debate on whether or not what God actually does to the Israelites is evil would be a debate on semantics, which the Instagram debate ended up being. The whole idea that God would or could conceive evil, when He is inherently good, seemed unfathomable for a lot of people. It seemed better to understand this in relation to the people experiencing the action and their perspective.
For example, in a war, when God fought for the Israelites and gave them victory; to them He did good, but to those defeated, He did evil. But ultimately, was God good or evil? In showing favour to the Israelites, has God been evil? And when God decides no longer to show favour to them, so that they are on the receiving end of defeat and oppression, has God been evil?
What I see is the neutrality and potency of God, to bestow benevolence or malevolence, and He does so to reward us for our actions, as is seen in His creation of Heaven and Hell. However, ultimately, His desire for us is good. His will for all of us is good. But if we shun His goodness and repay it with evil, He will withhold His goodness and repay us justly.
To better understand what I’m saying, let’s consider the notorious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Towards them, God had been neutral. They enjoyed a good land, rain and shine, and peace. Their land was so good that Lot chose it for his dwelling. But they were hellbent on evil. And they continued in it to the point that it would have been evil of God to ignore their wickedness. So, He chose to judge them!
To those who died when the cities were destroyed by fire, it was an “evil” that befell them. And we know that the enactor of this particular evil was God, Himself. Whether or not God was justified, in their experience, He devised and brought evil to them. But to Lot and those with him, who were saved, God had been GOOD, FAITHFUL, JUST and MERCIFUL through the same act.
So, to the righteous, He is always good, even when they receive “evil” at His hand, like Job. But to the wicked, deceived and condemned, He is awful. He can never be good enough, because He won’t allow them to do what they please, which tends towards evil.
But whatever evil men do, even the ones used to enact God’s judgement on the wicked, they do by their own will and desire. In the case of when God sends a nation to overthrow another, He simply releases the dogs on the condemned. He releases evil, so that men can see and moan over the horror and terror of evil, and appreciate and desire goodness. Because, the truth is, when evil is released, anything is possible. And that is why when David sinned against God, he asked rather that God afflict him with His own hand, than leave him to the hands of men.
“For when David was up in the morning, the word of the LORD came unto the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,
Go and say unto David, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee.
So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.
And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man” (2 Samuel 24:11-14).
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