Lowell C Cooper, General Vice President, General Conference
Summary: We are subject to the boundaries of this life, this time and this space. But the dimensions in which God works are strikingly different.
Introduction. Submission is a word and an idea that is not welcome in our day and age. Somehow it reminds us of the horrors of history—aggression, subjugation, empires and dynasties. It is a word that conflicts with national aspirations anywhere in the world. It is an idea that runs counter to human nature, rubs against the grain of human inclination. Submission is seen as a threat to the realization of one’s potential, an obstacle to progress, a denial of identity. Yet it is a Christian word. With all this negative baggage, how can it be a useful idea in our message and mission—an operating principle in life?
One thousand years ago the earth was the physical center of the universe and God was the moral center. Then came the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment, and the millennium closed with a much different view than that with which it started. Today the physical universe has no center and our earth is only a part of a small solar system spinning in boundless space. What’s more, God has been removed from the moral center of the universe and has been replaced by the human self. ?I? has become king. It is in this kind of thought environment that the Scripture beckons us to submission! Where self is sovereign, we are to speak of surrender.
Imagery of submission. The Bible uses great pictures to capture grand truths. One of those pictures is that of the potter and the clay—an illustration of sovereignty and submission (See Jer 18:1-6). The apostle Paul picks up the picture in Romans 9:20-21. Let us linger in thought for a few moments on what is to be seen in this picture. We shall look at the person of the potter, the purpose of the potter and the problem of the clay.
The Person of the potter. It is obvious from Scripture that the potter represents God. He is the one who made us. (Gen 2:7) At the very beginning of Scripture we are introduced to a relationship of sovereignty—that of Creator and creature. At times I wonder if man has created God in his own image. We live in a designer age where things are made to fit the individual. In this atmosphere spiritual leaders might be tempted to fit God to human needs. He becomes one who hears our every whimper, controls our weather and brings us safely to and from work. All this is true, but it is not all that is true about Him.
When we look in Scripture it appears that anyone who met God was terrified by His holiness. The prophet Isaiah became speechless in the presence of God. The wisemen, like all scholars of the day, had much to talk about, but when they came to
Karl Barth spoke and wrote of the otherness of God—that we should not try to fit God into an extra large suit, that we should not ascribe to Him the dimensions of our own emotions and intelligence. Said Barth: ?You cannot speak about God by speaking about man in a loud voice.?
Is it appropriate to sound a note of caution lest in our worship services we attempt to bring God down to our level rather than be lifted up to His? That we let God become preoccupied with the happenings on our horizon rather than that we ask Him to heal our visions so that we can see life in the perspective of eternity? That in our private devotions we learn to listen more than to speak? How often we simply rush into His presence, place before Him our agenda of concerns and rush out to attend to the business of the day. There is no time to listen to Him or to soak up His presence. When we have only enough time to place before Him our needs and what we want Him to do for us, it is as though we are making Him to be the clay rather than the potter. Be careful! The potter is holy. ?Faith is not knowledge of what the mystery of the universe is, but the conviction that there is a mystery, and that it is greater than us.—Rabbi David Wolpe, Making Loss Matter
The purpose of the potter. Even though Scripture declares that ?eye hath not seen, ear has not heard, nor has entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for His children,? we are not without some hints (See 1 Jn 3:2 and Eph 2:4-7). The best we can do at planning is for a few short years. We cannot see the future. We can only hope that it will permit the outworking of our small ideas and limited dreams. We are subject to the boundaries of this life, this time and this space. But the dimensions in which God works are strikingly different. Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is need of a broader scope, a higher aim. ?True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being and with the whole period of existence possible to man.?—E G White, Education, p 13
The problem of the clay. Obviously the Bible picture intends that we see ourselves as the clay in this imagery (Jer 18:1-6). The clay can do nothing of itself. It cannot make itself into something of value. It is absolutely helpless and useless. It needs a potter! But the clay has trouble understanding submission. In spite of our rational acceptance of this simple truth, we still struggle with submission. Until we come to a point of shipwreck in life, we will exhibit a desire to be the potter rather than the clay. It takes divine wisdom and power to make operational in life what we know in theory—that submission to God is the only escape from the tyranny of self, the only way our ministry becomes effective, the only wellspring of peace and contentment. ?The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little for ward progress is because they have not yet come to the end of themselves. We are still giving some of the orders, and we are still interfering with God’s working within us.?—A. W. Tozer
Lovers of poetry will enjoy how Ethelyn Shattuck captured the essence of our predicament and its remedy:
Dear Heavenly Father: I’m working on a puzzle, pure and simple. It is I.
Dear Searching Child: Here’s the answer to your puzzle, pure and simple. It is I.
Paul helps us to understand how to look at life after learning the art of submission. (See Phil 1:12). What a remarkable way to look at suffering and tragedy and the unexpected in one’s own life! To realize that even life’s unwanted experiences: my defeats, my failures, my sufferings are things that God uses to His glory (See also 2 Cor 4:7).
Henry van Dyke (1852-1933) wrote a story about a handful of clay that dreamed of future greatness and glory. When it was made into a common clay pot the clay became despondent and fretful. To add further insult someone filled it with dirt and shoved a hard brown lump down into its center. After many days the clay pot was carried into a great cathedral and people came by the hundreds to see the finest lily that grew. The clay pot finally came to understand that it would never be the center of attention—but it could be a humble container for priceless beauty.
Maybe it’s a story such as this that helps us to realize that the whole point of submission is not what we might become in Him but what He might become in us
Colossians 1:26-27 reminds us of the mystery. . .which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.