Isaiah 63-66 completes the beautiful and terrifying prophecies of Isaiah.
In chapter sixty-four we have this famous plea:
Yet you, LORD, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, LORD;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
The context: the righteous people of Israel are recounting their recent history with God...and it is not good. They know that as a whole, their nation has failed their role as a blessing to the world, they have rejected God, and abused one another. But they plead with God for mercy, and in the words given above, they point out to God that they came from His hand - so he bears some responsibiltiy for the outcome, and ought to show some mercy to his creation.
In the next chapter God goes on a rant - He, the generous, benevelont, loving, faithful One has been rejected, disgraced, forsaken, betrayed. He more than anyone feels the implications of being their Father, their Potter. Not everyone was mean to God, but for those who were, the LORD shouts out: Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day. I will not keep silent but will pay back in full; I will pay it back into their laps.
Who, today, is smoke in God's nostrils? Those whom God has predestined for destruction? Those whom God created only to hate? (Romans 11) Or those who have never heard of God and thus never have an opportunity as an individual to accept/reject him? Or those who have never heard good news of God, only ugly and distorted views of God? What's the minimum amount of orthodoxy that you have to understand, believe and live? Is there degrees of smokiness depending on how close you are to justification or how far along you are in sanctification?
God proclaims through Isaiah: These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit and who tremble at my word. He goes on about the unhumble and noncontrite: Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the LORD repaying his enemies all they deserve.
Apparently there are people who just don't want anything to do with God, and their rejection has nothing to do with irrelevant church ministries, bad preaching, hypocrisy amongst Christians, etc. They understand very well God's intent, and don't want it. I don't know those people, but if they don't want God in this life, they won't want him in the next. And in light of all that God has done for these rejecters, for how much he loves them and delights in them, it must hurt deeply when they reject him.
What scares me is that it seems like it is not only outright rejecters that get God's vengeance, it is rejecters of any kind. It seems like even if you are a nonaccepter (one who has not had the opportunity to reject, therefore they stand as one who could not accept what was not presented...) then you end up unredeemed. Thus, what is really hard to accept is that seemingly only a few people out of all of humanity that has ever existed will be redeemed by God: either by predestination or free-choice. If predestination, then why only a fraction of humanity? If free-will, why not work harder to woo humanity? It is a hard doctrine to digest, as Luther points out in some of his writings. What say you?
Paul uses the clay/potter text in his fundraising letter to Christians in Rome as he explains God's election of the righteous; and he draws this implication out of the poem: who are you, a mere human, to talk back to God! But Paul goes on, like Isaiah, to paint a beautiful, mysterious, compelling picture of the lengths God will go to redeem the world and bless the righteous. I find fascinating what God writes through Paul: For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. It is no wonder that this clay-Paul shouts out of his Potter:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!