In the 1st century, clay pots and jars were all the rage. Why? Well, they held food and drink and allowed items to be carried more easily. Oh, and clay pots didn't do a lot of back talking.
Paul thinks we can learn a lot from them.
One of the most famous images from the Bible of God as a potter shaping his people out of clay. Paul pays homage to it in Romans:
But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? (9:20-21)
This verse is clearly a shout-out to the Hebrew Bible, where the same kind of language is used. Jeremiah has the famous story of the Potter's House (Jeremiah 18:1-10). Isaiah also has several references to God as a sassy potter:
• "Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, 'What are you making?' or 'Your work has no handles?'" (Isaiah 45:9)
• "Shall the potter be regarded as the clay? Shall the thing made say of its maker, 'He did not make me;' or the thing formed say of the one who formed it, 'He has no understanding?'" (Isaiah 29:16)
Okay, this verse seems a little harsh, but the metaphor is a good one for Paul's purpose. A pot is an inanimate object. It would be ridiculous for it to suddenly spring to life and start criticizing the guy who's spending all this time making it, right? It is just a pot, after all. Its owes its whole existence to the potter and it's not supposed to get all uppity about the way it was made. Take that, pot.
Of course, this metaphor is also a pretty unsatisfying answer. It sort of indicates that Paul has reached a rhetorical dead-end. He's got nowhere else to go, so he's settled it all with a "because God said so" argument. Not exactly a winning line.
The verse also implies that questioning isn't a healthy part of growing in faith. After all, if we never second guess God, how can we grow and develop as people of faith? It's also worth note that Paul himself engages in all kinds of questioning. He even seems to anticipate others' questions about God's motives. If all this doubt didn't have a place, why include it at all?
After all, without a sassy pot like Paul, there would be no Epistle to the Romans.
• The Book of Job ends with a similar, "Who are you to question God?" argument as God scolds the long-suffered Job from a tempest (Job 40:6-41:34).
• There are various churches around the country named after God the Potter. Like this one, led by pastor, T.D. Jakes.
• And it's just a coincidence that Harry (a pseudo-Christ figure) has the last name Potter. Sure it is…