Part 1 of this series began our look at the parallels between childbirth and spiritual rebirth, focusing on the initial joining (conception) that starts the process. Now it’s time to examine the spiritual growth that follows a spiritual conception. Does it, too, parallel the physical processes leading up to childbirth?
In pregnancy, the single-celled zygote divides into multiple cells in order to form an embryo. The cells recognize each other as parts of a whole because they share the same DNA. Having the same DNA doesn’t mean that the cells are all the same, of course. Once there are about sixteen cells, they begin to differentiate and perform more specialized functions as the number of cells multiplies.
In spiritual rebirth, which we will simply call rebirth, something similar takes place. Recall Jesus’s words in Matthew 18:20:
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
What Jesus means is that his “spiritual DNA” unifies the group of individuals. Speaking to his Father, he said,
“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.” [John 17:22-23]
So the gathering of individuals is a cohesive spiritual unit because each member recognizes they share their spiritual DNA with Jesus. Just as the cells of an embryo multiply and differentiate, a gathering of two or three also multiplies, exhibiting more diversity while remaining a cohesive spiritual unit.
To understand the next stage in spiritual development, we need to consider the continuing process of physical growth. As the number and types of differentiated cells increase in the human embryo, a new challenge arises: how can they all keep working together as a unit? The solution is communication. A vast network of connections develops among the cells, enabling the formation of many of the more complex structures – the heart, the circulatory system, and so on. After eight weeks, the new body begins to resemble its final state, even though it is still only about an inch long.
Communication is also the key that keeps the new spiritual body working as a whole, even as it becomes a more sophisticated organism. One such spiritual embryo is described in Acts 4:32-35:
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had…. God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. From time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales,… and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”
The developing spiritual embryo appears as a utopian community characterized by wholeness, equality, contentment, strength, generosity, sensitivity, and diversity. Those qualities all stem from its spiritual DNA. By being ‘one in heart and mind,’ a real utopia is produced. But utopia is not the end product. This type of community is no more the final form of the spiritual child than the human embryo is after eight weeks of pregnancy. So what is left to do? Let’s look again at the example of human development.
After eight weeks, the embryo becomes a fetus. The fetal stage of development is the longest of all the stages and is a period of remarkable growth and change. It is during this time that the brain and reproductive organs form, the remaining bodily systems develop fully, and the child begins to make movements. Finally the child is born.
Likewise, the final developmental stage of spiritual rebirth is characterized by dramatic growth and transformation, culminating in the rebirth of a spiritual child. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, describes this stage of development.
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit…. one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” [Ephesians 4:3-4, 6]
Paul is reminding his listeners that all share the same spiritual DNA and are cells or members of a single spiritual body. And, like a human fetus, this body will continue to grow and experience transformation, culminating in the birth of a child. Who is this reborn child? Paul tells us.
“This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.” [Ephesians 4:13] (CEV)
As a full-term fetus becomes a fully-developed human being, so humanity with its common spiritual DNA grows to become Christ, the Son of God reborn.
It seems incredible, doesn’t it? Can being of one heart and mind really be humanity’s destiny? Is it our destiny to become the Christ, the Son of God? Before you totally dismiss this idea, consider this. Is it really any more mind boggling than the union of a sperm and egg becoming a child in which the parent can see themselves?
As the noted artist and technologist Alexander Tsiaras observed in his TED Talk,
“The magic of the mechanisms inside each genetic structure saying exactly where that nerve cell should go, the complexity of these, the mathematical models on how these things are indeed done, are beyond human comprehension. Even though I am a mathematician, I look at this with the marvel of ‘How do these instruction sets not make these mistakes as they build what is us?’ It’s a mystery, it’s magic, it’s divinity.”
The seemingly impossible happens every day when a child is born. It can happen again, as the spiritual unity of two individuals grows to become Christ, the child in whom the Father sees Himself.
We indeed have much to learn, not only about how we came to be, but more importantly, about who we are.