Isaiah 64:8 (NRSV)
O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.
Introduction. You may have heard about the 5 year who came into the house after playing with some neighborhood boys and ask his mother, “Where did I come from?” Knowing that he would someday ask such a question but surprised by how early he asked it, she immediately went into a long and detailed explanation of the “birds and the bees.” After about 20 minutes, she ask her son who was pale and his mouth drooping in amazement, “Why did you ask question?” He replied, “Jimmy said he and his family came here from Memphis, so I wondered where we had come from.”
Questions. Answering the wrong question can take us down an interesting road. Much the delight of some and chagrin of others, I am not answering the question this mother heard.
Worldview. Questions have a huge impact on something called our worldview. One author I read said worldviews are like belly buttons – everyone has one but we seldom talk about them. Interestingly, many are not conscious of the worldview but it does not mean they lack one.
What is a worldview? – a set of assumptions, beliefs and values each of us hold that shape our understanding of reality, the major decisions we make, how we act and many of the attitudes we hold. Worldviews have huge impact on us. It is the lens through which we see the world.
Imagine your primary purpose is to be happy, then you are likely to pursue those things you image will make you happy and dump those things which cause you unhappiness. If you boyfriend (job) does not make you happy, you will probably dump him and find a new one (look for a new one).
Worldviews are not fixed and stagnant but are fluid and malleable. Many parents have sent their children off to college who seem to share their set of beliefs but in a year or two find their views have changed radically. Those same students when they become parents of teenagers often find shifts in their worldviews. Perhaps Paul’s words in Romans 12 was directed toward worldviews – “Don’t be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Several elements shape our worldviews. According to Ken Funk, these are epistemology, metaphysics, cosmology, teleology, theology, anthropology, axiology and a good apology from me giving you such an academic list. A simpler way of looking at this is looking at four fundamental questions that shape each of our worldview – Where did I come from? Why am I here? What is right and wrong? Where am I headed? It is important for us to think through these questions and attempt to answer each one honestly and with conviction. This morning we will look at “Where did I come from?”
What is the origin of the human species? How did you come to be? In the broadest sense, views on these questions fall into three categories.
One of the views is we – (you – me) are a product of a random, materialistic universe. We are here by chance of how certain elements and events aligned. You and I are accidents of history.
In terms of a “pure” form of evolution, life on this planet evolved from certain conditions where there was the alignment of matter and energy necessary to create simple forms of life which over time mutated into higher or more complex forms of life. Over huge spans of time, this world came to have the diversity of life we know including you and me. We are product of these random events. All of life is what is experienced in this material world.
Perhaps a less sophisticated perspective that falls into this category is one believing he/she is the product of the fastest swimming sperm reaching a willing egg and conception taking place. The particular information imprinted through that process determined you being born and who you are. If you had had been conceived on a different day, well you would not be you. You would be someone else.
Another large view is largely religious or maybe philosophical in nature which says each of us are part of a larger spiritual dimension in which all the material stuff has no meaning or is bad. We are a part of some cosmic consciousness, great energy or force, the Light, the great gnosis (knowledge). We are here because we are on this journey to be reunited to this great cosmic consciousness and escape this material world. In a sense, we just ARE these spiritual entities that inhabit a material body.
The third large category is a view that we are product of a Creator. Humans are not accidents of evolution and are more than parts of the universe wanted to be reunited. Humans are designed and created by God. Into this category we can place three of the world’s prominent religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Each share the belief God is creator of the universe and of people. While there are variations among individual Muslims, Jews and Christians about how God did created, these count God as the source. God made us.
On a personal level, it is one thing to believe God created human beings, but it is another matter to believe God created you. Do you believe God created you – that you in particular are an intended and purposeful creation of God?
When I was in seminary, one of my supervised ministry assignments was at the Georgia Mental Retardation Center in Atlanta. (By the name you can tell it was a few decades ago.) My assignment was to visit a couple of units where the young residents had severe mental and physical issues for four hours a week. Most could not carry on a conversation and some were non-ambulatory.
One of the activities they loved was singing. Their favorite song was “The Butterfly Song.”
If I were a butterfly; I’d thank you Lord for giving me wings
If I were a robin in a tree; I’d thank you Lord that I could sing
If I were a fish in the sea; I’d wiggle my tail and I’d giggle with glee
But I just thank you Father for making me, me.
For you gave me a heart and you gave me a smile. You gave me Jesus and you made me your child. And I just thank you Father for making me, me.
This third position is one that is repeated many times throughout scripture – human beings are created by God. You and me have been made by the Creator.
One of the picturesque metaphors used to describe our creation is God being the potter and each of us being the clay. Each of us is a lump of clay in the hands of the divine potter who places us on the potter’s wheel to form us. In the potter’s mind is the plan of what he will make the lump to be – a bowl, a cup, a jar, a plate. He has in mind how large it needs to be. The potter is in charge of the design. It is not a random creation but is intentional.
For the potter, there is an intimate link with the clay. His hands shape and design the clay. He feels it shape and senses what next moves to make to form his creation. It is easy to overlap a transparency of a potter and the clay onto the story told in Genesis 2 where God took the dirt of the ground and formed the first human being. You have the imagery of a human molded by God.
It seems it is one thing to say God created human beings but it is another to say God created “me.” The biblical story affirms both. God created humanity but also God created each human being.
In Psalm 139, the psalmist so beautifully expressed this as he speaks to God:
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth (13-15). The psalmist imaged God being present while he was developing inside his mother’s womb. God was active in the formation. No part of the process was hidden from God or escaped God’s oversight. The biblical narrative proclaims God created human beings and made you and me.
While I love the imagery of a potter and clay, there is one place where the clay imagery begins to crumble. When a potter finishes her work, it is “lifeless.” It stays where it is placed. It cannot interact with the Creator or other pieces of pottery. It merely exists.
As human beings we are given life. We can and do interact with our environment. We relate to one another. We pray to God and listen for God’s voice. Genesis 2 expressed it this way – God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him and he became a living person. God not only forms us, God breathes his divine breath into us so we come alive.
All of us have a choice about this cornerstone of our worldview. What will we choose to believe regarding our origin? Do you believe and act as though you are a random accident of history? Do you live as though your real essence is a spark within trying to escape this material reality? Or do you believe God intentionally created you?
Impact on our lives.
The million dollar question from exploring what we believe is: Does it really matter which of these you believe? If so, then “How?” I firmly believe it will make a huge difference for us in terms of our actions, attitudes and behaviors.
Perhaps one of the largest impacts of what we believe about our origin is on our value of life and decisions we make regarding life. If we see life as a random accident, life does not have intrinsic value. Life just is. If all the life we know is in this world, then our focus tends to be on ourselves.
But imagine, we are anchored in the understanding God created life – all human life and your life. Life is more than something that happens to be. Life is a gift from a benevolent Creator. Comprehending this leads us to place life as a high value. Life moves from being a mere set of physical experiences for a season to a gift over which God has given us stewardship. So how we live it out and the decision we make are aimed at pleasing our Creator.
If you think you are but a mere spirit imprisoned in a physical body, the quest of life is escape this material existence. You are less likely to have a high value of others and invest in them unless you imagine it will give you points to escape to a higher existence.
But if you know all are created by God, others take on a sense of value. Whether the others are like you or very different from you, you have a high view of those people.
One of the persons I admire most in this world is my father, who by the way turned 83 on Tuesday. If you were to ask him where he came from, he would joke and tell you Appalachia, VA. But if you pressed him for his origin he would proclaim he was made by God. I truly believe this foundational belief has impacted how Dad has related to people throughout his life and ministry. I have watched Dad show respect for all people regardless of their standing. I never sensed he showed favoritism, ignored or treated someone poorly. I have seen him take under his wing some who much of society would consider “throw-aways.” But he loved them as sisters and brothers. Believing he was made by God and that you are too has been the anchor of my dad loving all people regardless of their station in life.
What we believe about where we come from will deeply impact how we value ourselves. If any of us think we are random accidents, it will impact how we view ourselves and what we do with our lives. But if we believe God made us with His own hands and has a purpose for us, we will see our lives of great value. When life gets hard and things turn sour, knowing God made us can help carry us through.
So, where do you believe you come from?