God on the Throne of a Broken World
by Charles Price
God on the Throne of a Broken World
by Charles Price
There’s an argument which says that if God were good, He would want to make His creatures happy – and that if He were all powerful, He would be able to do what He wished. But, as this argument reasons, because His creatures by and large are not happy, God is either not good, or not all powerful. Or, both. That’s a dilemma presented to the honest-thinking mind when contemplating the idea that God is good, sovereign and loving.
But, what does it mean for God to be sovereign? Does it mean everything is happening according to His plan? That He is strategically moving events around like a brilliant chess player? I received an email from a friend recently talking about a series of woes he’s facing.
It ended by quoting an old song which went like this,
God is still on the throne
And He will remember His own
His promise is true, He will not forget you
God is still on the throne
That clearly gave my friend some comfort, but what does it mean for God to be ‘on the throne’? Are all the events of the world an expression of His will and purpose? Certainly Job, amid his many crises and tragedies, seemed to think so when he wrote, “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.- Job 42:2 (NIV).
But, scripture makes other statements too. For example, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” – 1 John 5:19 (NIV). On three occasions, Jesus called Satan, “…the prince of this world”, and Paul spoke of him as “… the god of this age” and the “…ruler of the kingdom of the air…”. These are all lofty statements about the devil having power, rule and some control in this world. So then, how do we reconcile this with God being on the throne?
Jeremiah wrote about the throne of God in this way, “A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary.” – Jeremiah 17:12 (NIV). There is a ‘throne’, he says, that is not so much a place of control, as it is a place to which we can run to find refuge, sanctuary and safety. Jeremiah then explains this by a story he tells in the next chapter. He goes to a potter’s house and observes a potter working a piece of clay on his wheel. But, the pot he was shaping was marred in his hands. So, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it – Jeremiah tells us – as seemed best to him.
The marred clay is a picture of the people of God, and the potter is God. There are three movements in this story which help us understand how the throne of God is a refuge. Firstly, the clay is marred in the potters’ hands. Something goes wrong with it and the original intent of the potter is spoiled.
The ‘marring’ is clearly neither the intention, nor the mistake, of the potter. It is self-inflicted. The clay represents the nation of Judah, God’s chosen people, occupying the land for His purpose. But, they are rebelling against Him, resisting His will and they are out of step with His purpose.
Jeremiah had been sent to call the people to repentance and restoration. But, with 40 years of relentless prophesying, there was no understanding and no response. Much less, any change of direction. They were going headlong in their own chosen direction, and before long, the Babylonian army would attack, overwhelm them and reduce them to servitude in exile. The nation is ‘marred’ in the potter’s hand. That is the message Jeremiah was given when he visited the potter’s house.
By extension, it’s a picture of us too. Things go wrong in life, sometimes by our own foolish, selfish actions. Sometimes, bad things are not done ‘by’ us, so much as done ‘to’ us. We are victims of wrong and evil. We have marring, damage, sins, faults and injuries. As Jeremiah watches the potter with the marred clay, he asks himself questions like, “…what is the potter going to do with the marred clay?”, “…will he take it off the wheel and throw it away?”, “…is there no future for this piece of clay?”, “…will he look for a fresh lump to start again?”, “…what does God do with rebellious and damaged people?”, “…does he discard them?”.
The second movement answers that – “…the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” – Jeremiah 18:4 (NIV). The clay is re-moulded and reshaped into something different. The reshaping is not of inferior quality, available only as a ‘second’, for he specifically shaped it, ‘as seemed best to him’. It’s not junk quality, but good quality. There is a future beyond marring and spoiling that has the best possibilities for the piece of clay in mind. This is the place of refuge Jeremiah points to, God on His throne, moulding damaged clay into something good.
No damage is final, provided we run to the sanctuary of His throne for refuge. To run away from God in our shame is the very last thing to do. Instead, we are invited to run to Him. Our security is not in being a nice piece of ‘pristine’ clay, but in bringing Him all the damage, disappointment, tears and dirt that is true of us, so that He can remould us into something good.
This is why Jeremiah tells us that God the Potter is the One who sits on the throne as ‘the place of our sanctuary’, the place to run to and the place to find security. It would be true for the damaged nation of Judah, and it’s true for you and me. In the New Testament, Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (NIV).
Bad things happen, some self inflicted, some otherwise, but this is the New Testament version of the potter remoulding the clay. The throne of God is not a place to fear, but to find refuge in, where ‘in all things… He works for the good of those who love Him’. Nothing, and no one, is irredeemable – unless, by their own choice, they continue in rebellion and resist the Potter’s hand.
For Judah, the severity of their exile in Babylon broke their resistance and, in humility, they came to God again. The prophet Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile, and he wrote when he was there, “In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the Heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” – Ezekiel 1:1 (NIV).
They hadn’t been seeing visions of God for decades, and now, broken by Babylon, sitting in exile by the Kebar River, the Heavens open and they have visions of God! They reconnect with God again, and He begins to remake them. Wherever we are, there is always the hope of rescue as we run to Him and find refuge in His throne.
Bring your mess, bring you marred clay, your dirt, your damage and your pain and give it all to Him and He will remould the pieces into something different, which, “…seems best to Him”. Sometimes the damages of our past become the assets of our future, for they are part of our new shape and become a means of enrichment to ourselves and others.
But, there is a third movement in this story. The process of ‘remoulding’ and ‘reshaping’ is conditional on people being responsive. In the next chapter, Jeremiah takes a group of elders and leaders of the people back to the potter’s house. This time, he sees a clay jar that has hardened and become rigid. God tells them they have insisted on replacing Him with foreign gods, they have not responded to pleas to return and that their hearts have become hard.
Jeremiah, in front of the leaders of Judah, takes the clay jar and smashes it to smithereens on the ground. The message was clear, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.” – Jeremiah 19:11 (NIV).
Their hearts had hardened and could no longer be remoulded. Judgement was inevitable. We are warned hearts can become “…hardened by sin’s deceitfulness…” – Hebrews 3:13 (NIV), and reach a point where we no longer hear the voice of God, or respond to Him. We must take that seriously and be wary of it ever arising in us. But, even then, there continues to remain a glimmer of hope. Daniel wrote of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, “But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory.” – Daniel 5:20 (NIV).
Of all arrogant people, Nebuchadnezzar strutted the most, but when he lost his throne, he found God. His was one of the most dramatic conversions in all of scripture, and Daniel 4 is a chapter given over to an official document, distributed throughout the Babylonian empire telling the story of his conversion. His key testimony was this – “And those who walk in pride He is able to humble” – Daniel 4.37 (NIV).
It is much harder to be humbled, than to humble ourselves. But, humility is the path to the throne of God, where we find refuge, where we are re-moulded into something good and where we are restored to purpose. This can be your story too.
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