With three daughters under the age of four, I have read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” more times than the average man. For the uninformed, this is the tale of caterpillar who breaks free from his egg with a serious hunger. After five days of colourfully-sketched fruit, he goes on a dietary tear, eating his way through desserts and delicacies, meats and treats. A stomachache lands him back at a green leaf feast. By this time, our tiny protagonist has become a pudgy worm on the verge of cocooning. The finale of the book begins on the second-last page:
Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out, and… (final page turn here)
He was a beautiful butterfly!
[The story can be viewed HERE, if you wish.]
A colourful story of how worms become butterflies, this children’s book has yet to educate me on what really happens. How does a slinking and slimy caterpillar become a soaring and stunning butterfly? What magical tailor lives in that cocoon to design, craft, and attach those wings to that thing?
It is no error that we use the word metamorphosis to describe this process:
A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.
No exaggeration is necessary to tie the term “miracle” to such a definition, yet the reminder quickly follows: “This is natural.”
A paradoxical phrase.
By very definition, miraculous means unnatural and natural means void of miracle. Yet every butterfly serves as a marriage ceremony for these incompatible terms.
And not only butterflies.
We have been holding a new baby over the past three weeks. Our third daughter is beautiful and delightful, often eliciting “butterfly praises” herself.
“Oh, she’s beautiful.”
“What a wonder!”
“Aren’t babies just miracles!”
Actually, they aren’t. They are completely natural, the antithesis of miraculous. Certainly, they are fearfully and wonderfully made, intricately designed, astonishing feats of micro-engineering. But every baby remains the anticipated result of two very specific human cells making contact within a very specific act of union. For the frequency of the query, “Where do babies come from?”, I assure you: We know the answer.
And it is as natural as it gets.
Then why do I dare you?
I dare you to hold an infant and not get carried away. Let those tiny, dark eyes lock in on you. Allow a sleeping baby to fill your arms. Inspect every small feature, and avoid thoughts of wonder. Hold those hands and remain ho-hum. I dare you.
These 100% natural creatures quickly conceive in us astonishment, the type of breathless pause typically reserved for… miracles.
Miraculously natural, I tell you.
The Bible’s New Testament uses “miraculously natural” language to describe what happens to those who surrender their lives to God’s control. In sketching the warp-evolution that Christ causes in people, the apostle Paul takes us back to the cocoon with the Greek term metamorphoo (Rom 12:2 and 2 Cor 3:18) to describe this shocking movement from a being of one substance to quite another being of quite another substance. There is no theme of mere self-improvement, the type of snail-like evolution that every man expects over time from one-degree changes and choices. Scripture’s themes of resurrection, redemption, and re-creation are far more radical, akin to blind men star-gazing and wrapped corpses asking for seconds at dinner tonight.
It is noteworthy that the other two instances of metamorphoo in the Greek New Testament describe the disciples witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration from all they knew him to be into more than imagination allowed, right before their too-small eyes.
Observing the Christian reality of spiritual transformation, an onlooker would comment, “It’s a miracle!” And they would be right.
Jesus would add, “And completely natural.” And he, of course, would also be right.
Miraculously natural. How does this work?
Paul would offer a sentence: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17)
The earliest disciples would chime in with a line Jesus had earlier shared: “I am the vine, and your are the branches. If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit. But apart from me, you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)
While describing the miraculous process of transformation, both Paul and Jesus use a key causal phrase. This is not unpredictable arrival; there is rhyme and reason. Indeed, A leads to B leads to C. Any life humbly handed to Jesus with an openness that invites the Spirit of God to indwell it will be flooded with life abundant. You can count on it: The miraculous apparently overtakes any old chap who is “in Christ”. It is natural.
Intersections are the scenes of collisions, and this is one crash that leaves onlookers’ heads shaking. This is the intersection of blow-your-socks-off miraculous and exactly-what-we-expect natural.
This is some intersection!
And if you are in Christ, this is your home.
I would love to hear from you:
How do you understand the phrase “in Christ”?
What have you observed about the miraculously natural reality of your spiritual journey?