Mr. VanOverloop is a teacher in Covenant Christian Hight School and a member of Faith Protestant Reformed Church, Jenison, Michigan. Previous article in this series: August 2005, p. 447.
In the previous article we considered how God created the butterfly to undergo the process of metamorphosis, to change the body of a butterfly from the lowly caterpillar to the winged adult. Allow me to remind the reader that after metamorphosis the body of the butterfly has undergone a complete transformation. Everything, including its eyes, brain, intestines, legs, and stomach, has been dissolved. The imaginal disks, however, escaped destruction, and these groups of cells have grown to form the new organs and body parts.
In this second article we consider how this process of metamorphosis results in a butterfly whose life in many ways is a beautiful picture of the life of a Christian. As God works in our hearts all our life long, from a spiritual viewpoint we also become totally different. We become a whole new creature. It is difficult to find one word that encapsulates the whole changing process that God sovereignly and graciously works in Christians. As with all pictures or analogies, no word seems to fit perfectly. The change is really a combination of processes that begins with regeneration at an instant in time, continues all our life long as we go through daily conversion, and culminates with our perfect glorification in the new heaven and earth. It is that gradual sequence of changes that is pictured in the metamorphosis of a butterfly. Let’s take a look.
The butterfly, which as a caterpillar used to be a creature of the night, most active in the shadows of the leaves, now becomes one of the day, flying in the sunny field. This behavior is not merely a physiological response of the butterfly. God designed the butterfly from the beginning of time to behave in exactly this way, so that the result of metamorphosis would remind the Christian of the great change that he undergoes in this life. Just as the butterfly is drawn to the light, so a true Christian longs for the Light. Think of I Thessalonians 5:4, 5: “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.” Aren’t we also changed to love the Lord and enjoy the opportunities to bask in the light of God’s Word? Eagerly we put ourselves in places where His light will shine on us. We anticipate hearing the Word preached.
Another result of metamorphosis is that the winged adult becomes extraordinarily beautiful. Although there are some notable exceptions, caterpillars tend to be drab and not known for their beauty. Isn’t that also true of Christians before and after our transformation? Knowing about great men and women of faith who have gone before us brings some even to tears because of the incredible beauty that God expressed in them. Some, including the apostle Paul, were at one time very dark figures that were wholly corrupted by sin. Their metamorphosis made them different, so that they quickly became beautiful, in a spiritual sense. They cared not at all about how they looked to the men of the world, but instead were industrious for the causes of Christ. Men whose bodies bore the marks of persecution or disease, but who remained dedicated to the kingdom of Christ, are those who from a spiritual standpoint are truly beautiful, beautiful people. In the final manifestation of the kingdom of God even their physical bodies will transform to be beautiful. No matter how marred their bodies were, when united finally with their souls in heaven, they will be altogether glorious persons.
In addition to a physical beauty, after metamorphosis butterflies also become conspicuous in their natural environment. They don’t intentionally try to stand out, but God designed them to be extraordinarily visible after their transformation. The distant flutter of the brilliant wings of a butterfly is readily noticed when one walks through the field. This physical condition points the observant Christian to the truth of the antithesis, the marked and very noticeable difference between those who are of Christ and those who are of the world. Christians stand out, not because they try to be different, but because of what they are becoming.
Many of us have experienced this at the university or workplace, where we had to disagree openly with those around us. In doing so, we became different from the crowd. People immediately take note of us when we defend our views on a six-day creation, on taking God’s name in vain, on the woman’s calling as mother in the home, on abortion, on drunkenness, on civil disobedience, on the nature of the covenant, and on the sovereignty of God. Our spiritual metamorphosis makes Christians stand out.
Again it must be emphasized that the bright colors of the butterfly are not merely a product of the composition of molecules that comprise the scales of its wings. Instead God, from the beginning of time, designed the butterfly’s genes to express such characteristics with a view to showing Christians, throughout all ages, that standing out and being noticeably different is a natural consequence of the transformation that God works in them. In stark contrast to the theory of evolution, nothing in God’s creation happens randomly or by chance. The conspicuousness of the butterfly after metamorphosis is no exception: it was profoundly intentional.
The caterpillar, before metamorphosis, can only crawl on its short legs, but the butterfly flies. It can soar in the warm summer breeze. Regeneration, and the ensuing process of conversion, have the same type of effect in a man’s soul. His spirit is uplifted, so that figuratively he also soars. Before the change, people are often unhappy with their life, their work, and their body, and they are generally discontent. This is one of the consequences of the fall. Man lost the perfect fellowship and friendship with God, so that without God there is always something missing in his life. There is in man an emptiness, a relationship that remains unfilled. No matter how much wealth God may have given him, he is always seeking more, because he thinks that if only he has that additional item, then he will be satisfied, then life will have purpose. The metamorphosed Christian does not look to worldly goods for fulfillment, because he more and more receives the fullness of Christ. He finds meaning and purpose in life as he lives a life of service to his God, communes with the saints, and grows in the knowledge of his so great salvation. In all of this he again can experience that fullness, and he will be known for his happiness and positive perspective on life. He has a fullness that those of the world can never attain. We should and must be a happy people. We are saved, after all! We have a hope, a promise, a sure confidence that the ungodly do not have. Christ loves us and has a mansion prepared for us in heaven. What could be better than that? What immeasurable joy and comfort that brings us! We have it all. We are rich. We take flight. We also, like the butterflies, can soar, spiritually.
Notice also that the process of metamorphosis requires time set aside from the caterpillar’s normal activities. The caterpillar must stop eating and find a place where it can use up much energy, with the ultimate result of receiving a new body. Remember that the butterfly loses half of its weight as it transitions from a caterpillar into a winged adult. Although God ultimately is the one that does the transforming, much energy is also spent by Christians as they labor to comprehend God and all that is revealed in Scripture. This knowledge and new life come with a cost. Christians should be known as those who spend much energy reading the Word, meditating on it, and using commentaries to learn from the insights that others have had. Christians may also have to give up what has become a normal lifestyle, and perhaps have to do without some activities altogether, for the purpose of making time to look into the mirror of God’s Word.
In Romans 12:2, we are admonished to be active in our Christian life as we grow in glory by our own transformation. Remember that our metamorphosis is manifest by an active proving of what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. And this is a demanding work. It requires that every one of our decisions, no matter how large or small, is to be made in full consciousness of our conversion. In this respect the daily aspect of living a sanctified life takes on added importance. The time that we decide to set our alarm for the morning, how much money we will spend on breakfast, how many of the ensuing hours we will spend in the gym, as well as larger decisions like to which school we should send our children, with whom we choose to spend our time, and how we choose to use our Sabbath days—all these decisions must be made with our new life in the forefront of our minds. Christians should always be striving to live sanctified lives. All of this work is an expression of the daily renewal of our lives in Christ, and is a very energy intensive process. There is no room for laziness in the lives of the converted. We are undergoing a metamorphosis, after all.
Finally, notice that the caterpillar does not consciously do the work of metamorphosis. Instead, the Lord does the work. The caterpillar, in and of itself, does not have the competence to change its own body. In fact, it does not even have an awareness that it is about to be changed into a winged adult. God sovereignly controls the millions of atoms and molecules in the tiny soupy innards of each chrysalis and places them in new arrangements within the cells of the rapidly dividing imaginal disks, so that, in the end, the butterfly has a new body. This is also true, in a spiritual way, for the Christian. He does not anticipate that it is going to begin, and it is only of grace that he is conformed to the image of Christ. He does not have the desire or the aptitude to be regenerated, the very beginning of the process of change. The apostle John speaks of those who became the sons of God and received Christ as those “which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Christians do not of themselves desire to belong to Christ. They don’t choose to be changed, so that they will freely do that which is good and upright in His sight. Instead God, as He does to the caterpillar, sovereignly carries out the work of transforming us.
In all of this it is evident that the metamorphosed butterfly can inspire in us the confidence that God’s work in us will also someday be completed. The butterfly’s transformation is finished. We can see that God has already given it a new body, and a beautiful one at that. It is already capable of flying and has achieved the typical purpose for which God created it. Yet, we find ourselves imperfect and still struggling because of sin. We do not yet serve God as we ought, with a true heart. God’s glory does not yet perfectly shine out of us so that we are absolutely beautiful. Our spirits do not soar as they should because we do not yet experience that perfect fellowship with Him whom we confess to love. But we have the promise in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Someday, when God ushers in the new heavens and the new earth, when Christ’s kingdom is established in its final manifestation, then the figure will become reality. Our metamorphosis will be complete. In that day we will be changed, so that our spirits will be united with our resurrected bodies, and we in singleness of mind will worship God in the beauty of perfect holiness. We will then have perfect fellowship with God, so that there will be nothing wanting in our life. Then our transformation will be complete. What a day, what a glorious day that will be!
What a beautiful picture the metamorphosis of the butterfly is of the Christian’s transformation. We praise the Creator God, who created nothing arbitrarily. Everything in creation was made with specific purposes in His mind. In the butterfly’s case, He designed it to grow in beauty, to stand out, to fly, and to behave differently through the process of metamorphosis, by being reborn. It’s a wonderful picture of the work that God is accomplishing in our souls and bodies. Thanks be to God for such a wonderful creation. May we see God’s works as they are—beautiful pictures teaching us and reminding us of the spiritual works and attributes of God. And in response may we give Him all the praise for the many wondrous works that He has done.