The pupation of the caterpillar into the butterfly was first introduced to me in Middle School (we called it Junior High.) Mankind has long marveled at the transformation from the ugly worm like caterpillar into the work of art that can be the butterfly so it was a fascinating science discussion. I don’t remember much about it (so I went to wikipedia and became an expert again.)
Caterpillars eat and that’s about all they do. It is a symbol of a man who lives by his lusts alone. Butterflies mostly eat too but they look beautiful doing it and that redeems them. Are we caterpillars or butterflies? We spend a great deal of time satisfying our desires like a caterpillar but is there any beauty to how we live? Are we butterflies?
I learned recently that if you cut a caterpillar open during chrysalis (but before it has turned into a butterfly) all you will find in there is a liquid, surupy goo. Eyes, wings and antenna parts are floating in there somewhere but the larva has pretty much dissolved. Also it was a surprise to discover that the caterpillar actually had the genesis of wings just under the skin. We used to think they just appeared almost out of nowhere.
Theologians considered this metamorphosis to be an allegory for the transformation of man from sinner to into redeemed, immortal, sinless creature. From death to resurrection to eternal life. We go from worm to butterfly. I identify with worm quite well. Butterfly not so much. There is a dark side. Caterpillars also turn into moths. Ugly, gross moths that fly around your lamp and make a huge mess when you squish them.
So how does this apply to us?
I think that when we place our faith in Christ and are reconciled to God, then we enter a chrysalis stage. The old self is slowly dissolved but our identity does not change. We are still us. (This is unlike reincarnation (where we forget our past self) or the egoless state of nirvanna (where we are absorbed into Brahman and lose distinct identity forever) ….Ok, I know that I have hopelessly simplified these Hindu/Buddhist concepts.) Having your old life dissolved as the Holy Spirit works in us can be painful. There are series after series of moments where we groan at the depth of our sin filled selves but God continues to work. In the same way, our sin choices also transform us, turning us slowly into self centered, angry, lust filled moths.
Eventually the Christian will be transformed into a heavenly state. New body. (I wonder if we will stop telling friends they “look great” when, in heaven, everyone will look great? “Hey man, you are looking….normal.”) New spirit. (We will have the spirit of Christ which cannot sin.) Immortal. (We can ride a roller coaster without fear of death.) Transformed into someone we can not truly imagine and yet still ourselves with the same memories and same identity. How does this work? Is there anything that we forget? Do our sins haunt us or perhaps they arouse gratitude in us for having been made new? I don’t know. I’ll tell you later…someday.
C.S. Lewis said ” …it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” Eventually we are either moth or immortal butterfly-like splendors. We choose our destiny. Either sin or the Holy Spirit will then transform us.
Philippians 1:6 He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (NASB)