Determined to Believe: Chapter 14 - The Potter Both Shapes and Responds to the Clay

This is a book study on John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility’. Lennox openly acknowledges that he has not provided definite solutions to these deep questions of the faith and that there is mystery involved. He clearly acknowledges that God is sovereign, but that we need to think carefully about what the word ‘sovereign’ means Biblically. This book, per my understanding, is an invitation for Christians to spend time thinking deeply about what the Bible means when it describes God as sovereign.

Greetings fellow bookies (@Interested_in_book_studies) - we are now on Chapter 14! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main takeaways were:

  • “The action of the potter is not capricious – the clay is living and what the potter does with it is in part dependent on its response to him.”
  • The vessels of mercy are the ones who respond to the grace of God in Christ Jesus of their own will
  • we should pay attention when our moral judgment is offended by a particular portrayal of God

Key Scripture

Jeremiah 18:5-10 - Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How does reading the passage from Jeremiah 18 about the potter to which Paul is alluding in Romans 9 help us understand that Paul is not talking about predestination to salvation? Or does it?
  2. What do you think of Lennox’s overall analysis of the issue of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart?
  3. Why should we pay attention to our moral judgment? What is the difference between acknowledge God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and recognizing that God gave us our moral sensibilities? Has the fall so impacted or moral compass that we ought not even pay attention to it?

Quotes

it is not so much that it offends our rational minds and that God’s thoughts are beyond and above our thoughts, but that it offends our moral judgment.

There are only two possible logical responses to this. Either the premise (God’s will is irresistible) is correct, and the deduction (God has no right to find fault) is false; or the premise is incorrect and so the argument collapses.

The climax of Stephen’s speech to the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem demonstrates that resistance to God has been a sad characteristic of the people of Israel throughout their history:

Over the course of events there seems to be a swing between Pharaoh’s own actions and God’s, which might well indicate that this story illustrates both human responsibility and God’s sovereignty.

what does the hardening of the heart mean in this context? The deterministic answer is that it has to do with Pharaoh’s eternal destiny. The immediate impression given by the text, however, is that it has to do with the stiffening of Pharaoh’s resolve not to lose the vast Hebrew slave labour force on which his economy was dependent.

To use a phrase that we shall soon discuss in Romans 9, he had prepared himself for destruction (Romans 9:22). Now that he had demonstrated that he deserved judgment, God chose to exercise his right to do so in a particular way that would sound out a powerful message to the world.

If a person rejects that message, there is no alternative means of salvation. This applies not only to Pharaoh but also to Israel, as we shall see in Romans 11.

The action of the potter is not capricious – the clay is living and what the potter does with it is in part dependent on its response to him.

The whole thrust of the gospel is to bring forgiveness and justification to children of wrath – which means all human beings. In that sense, we are all of the same “lump”.

Some will respond positively and become believers, and even vessels of mercy; whereas others will respond negatively and remain children of wrath.

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This is just a question about fairness as it comes up often in these conversations.

Could I claim that God is still not fair even if his decisions are not capricious? I am not arguing for this position but when we talk about fairness it just pops up out of thin air; everything seems to be fine and in walks fairness. Where does this come from?

I believe the best place to observe fairness in action is the playground. I am going to stick my neck out and say that if hang around a playground or it equivalent anywhere in the world it will not be long before you heard these words “that’s not fair”. Why is there a sense of fairness and why do we differ in what fairness is?

I hope this makes sense but at the heart of all this the idea of fairness is always there regardless of where one fall on the issue of determinism or free will.

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@Jimmy_Sellers Great point! That innate sense of fairness appears to be part of Lennox’s argument. The idea that God predetermines who is saved strikes us as immoral (unfair) because if God behaved that way it would in fact be unjust. At least that is my understanding of part of his argument in this chapter.

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