"So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him."
Jeremiah 18 is a famous chapter about the Potter and his clay vessel. God was using this "field trip" to teach Jeremiah about God's reworking of human lives. Many of us in the church know this "potter & clay" imagery. We are challenged to yield to God's molding (and remolding) in our lives.
But then there's chapter 19. Jeremiah's still at the potter's house, so God asks him to pick up one more item: an earthenware jug. Then God asks Jeremiah to go out to the trash heap... the town garbage dump... and also the place where worshiper's of Ba'al sacrifice their children (ugh!). In this place of rot, in the stench of refuse & death, God has Jeremiah shatter the jug so people will see what is about to happen to them (yikes!).
What changed between chapters 18 & 19? Why is God willing to remold & remake... then simply shatter? Is chapter 18 for "God's people," and chapter 19 for "sinners"? I doubt it. God's people ARE sinners (as ALL of us are!). Is 18 for those "in God's will" and 19 for the "rebels"? Maybe. But I think we're more often "rebels" than not. Could it be as simple as the firing process of ceramics? Think about it. Clay can be worked & reworked, over and over again, as many times as the master potter desires. But once it goes into to the kiln... once it's fired... it's shape is permanent. It may feel "stronger"... more firm, solid & permanent. But it's now also capable of being shattered. The clay, on the other hand, can't be shattered. It may feel crushed, smashed, dented & disfigured... but it can also be REMADE! Completely. Over and over again!
So what would the "firing process" be for us? LIFE? No. Life is all around us. God doesn't cocoon us away from the sometimes-painful realities of life. Plus, some of God's best "reworking" in our lives comes out of the painful life lessons we get ourselves into! Is it turning our backs on God? Maybe. But Jesus told parable after parable about God's love for the "lost" and the desire for things lost to become "found."
I think it may have something to do with our willingness to learn & change. Once fired, a clay pot is "set." Have we become so "set" in our ways, thoughts, & lifestyles that we cannot (or will not) change... or allow ourselves to be changed? [NOTE: I know this metaphor is slightly flawed because pieces of clay cannot choose to be fired. It's up to the potter. But in real life, I think it's the opposite.] We choose the kiln. We choose permanence over pliability. It seems more "safe." More permanent. But I believe that God would be content to a lifetime of reworking, if only we'd let him. Only at the point of entering eternity would we then be "fired" in the kiln of Jesus Christ (who's GRACE saves, remember!). But God never forces himself on us. We have to be willing to let him work.
May we forever be open to God's reworking... stay away from the kiln!