Updated: Oct 11, 2022
“His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:20).
One day, I found myself reading all about butterflies. I know what you’re thinking, super manly. But I sensed the “spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Eph 1:17) with me as everything I read was jumping off the page with significance. There is a lot we can learn from nature about ourselves and God - after all, we are made in His image and likeness and are “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4)!
“Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?” (St. Augustine, City of God, bk. 16)
In Romans 12:2, St. Paul exhorts us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. But he uses an uncommon word to describe “transformation”. In fact, it is used only two other times in the NT: in reference to Christ’s transformation on the mountain (Mt 17:2; Mk 9:2) and our being transformed into the image of Jesus as we turn to Him (2 Cor 3:18). The Greek word here is metamorphoó [Strong’s 3339], from where we get the english word metamorphosis.
Do you remember witnessing the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly from science class? Quick recap: Google dictionary defines it as “the process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages”, bringing “a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means”.
A butterfly is an awesome metaphor of a Christian. Objectively, it has been transformed by the process of metamorphosis - the two root words are meta (change after being with) and morphē (taking on the form that properly embodies a particular inner essence). Our identity has objectively been transformed in Christ, whether or not our lifestyle reflects that reality. It’s for this reason a butterfly is a symbol of transformation and the renewal of the mind.
Lessons From the Chrysalis
Something else stuck out to me while reading about butterflies, specifically in their process of emerging from the chrysalis (their transitional cocoon-like state). Despite being a natural process, a butterfly can actually get stuck in its chrysalis for a number of reasons. It may have an illness that causes the chrysalis shell to stick to the butterfly, stunting its development; it may be genetically weak or ill and be unable to work its way out; or it may be in the wrong environment that can cause dehydration or without space to hang where their wings can expand properly. We see here three critical areas of development that translate for the life of a Christian: the chrysalis, weakness and illness, and its environment.
In the Christian faith, our “chrysalis” is Christ himself, and it’s in relationship with Him that we are transformed. We become what we behold, as Jesus reveals man to himself and we are made in His image and likeness. However, our perception of God is often confining or limited, and we can be “clothed” with damaging constructs about our relationship with God. Because of these, we fail to grow and even die in that confined state. An example is having an Old Testament mindset, which brings the discouragement of condemnation - when there is “no condemnation in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Another related example is having an authoritarian image of God, which is really a projection of our own authority issues. With it, we tend to err on the side of caution as it’s safer to fear and avoid the consequence of crossing such a powerful moral authority. But this can stifle the boldness to explore our relationship, laying hold of our inheritance, living from our identity as a co-heir with Christ.
Weakness and Illness
The second area to learn from, is the weakness and illness that can prevent the butterfly from emerging from the chrysalis. In comparison to the Christian, these are areas of any “weight and sin that clings so closely” that prevent us from “running the race” (Heb 12:1). The weight of brokenness is the system of self-defenses, while sin is our self-reliant attempt to solve the problem of pain and the fulfillment of our desires. But what they all boil down to is unbelief - unbelief in the passionate pursuit, protection and provision of God, with faith in His power to satisfy every longing of the heart and even “restore the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25). Without faith in such a relationship, we cannot rest or trust that our needs will be met and we end up living like spiritual orphans.
What is needed is the preaching of the gospel, as “faith comes by hearing” (Rom 10:17), so that we might live in the conviction of “the hope of His calling, and what are the riches of the glory [the manifest presence of God] of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18). Unfortunately, the message that is often preached is one of works and performance, which stifles the faith which “alone pleases God” (Heb 11:6). Thus, many are bound in the cycle of sin as they pray for the grace to overcome sin - but really through personal effort, when it is faith that overcomes (1 Jn 5:4). We are either self-conscious and sin-conscious, or we are son-conscious. Faith, is looking at Jesus.
The last area is the environment that a butterflies needs, with a surface it can climb and hang from so its wings can expand properly. This allows blood to fill the vessels in its wings, which otherwise will quickly dry without that critical blood flow. In this position, with hanging and blood flow (the cross), it is able to explore its new capacity for flight, and sense the wind with its new-formed wings. You can see the parallel with a Christian, who emerges from the chrysalis of Jesus’ body, hanging on the cross, whose blood sets them free, transformed as a new creation.
This environment for a Christian is where we learn to pray in the Holy Spirit, and where we can begin to exercise the spiritual gifts. Too often, however, Christians can be discouraged in prayer or not have the space to exercise these gifts, and so they don’t fully form. What results is the creation of “earthbound mindsets”, characerized by “looking up”, with the spiritual focus of trying to “get into heaven”. Praying in the Holy Spirit and the exercise of the spiritual gifts, however, “bear witness with our spirit” (Rom 8:16) that we are positioned with Christ “in heavenly places” (Eph 2:6), who “ascended on high... and gave gifts to men” (Eph 4:8). A Christian who does not realize their access to God, and “every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3), ends up having a limited relationship with the Holy Spirit.
This can sound challenging, but consider how a caterpillar can still feel the “wind” (Spirit), but it cannot compare to the dancing of a butterfly on the wind, blowing “wherever it wills” (Jn 3:8). Some Christians, therefore, end up with an impersonal relationship with the Holy Spirit, acting upon them but not knowing the freedom of flying completely dependent on Him, in that dimension between heaven and earth. It is said that “prayer gives us wings”, when they actually come from God (Rev 12:14). But it is through the exercise of prayer that we take flight and move with the spiritual gifts, which are simply manifestations of the Spirit’s presence.
TL;DR: A butterfly’s emergence from the chrysalis, as well as its nature, helps us to better understand and pursue a flourishing Christian life. And, butterflies are awesome.