Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,[a] you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
Relate: I am a single man. I have never been married. I have never had kids. All of my younger brothers and sisters were adopted so I can say in all honesty that I have never even lived in the same house as someone pregnant. So I can say with confidence that I am certainly not an expert on the issue of giving birth. I have read a bit on what takes place in the formation of a child between the point of conception and birth. All that I can say is that it is fascinating. It is miraculous. It is beautiful. It is also quite… messy.
Now I know that some people reading up to this point are rubbing their hands and cracking their knuckles ready to dive into some pro-life vs pro-choice debate. I cannot help where the comments might lead but that is certainly not what I intend. There have always been two mantras in such a debate: “Life begins at conception” and “Life begins at birth”. I have always held to the former and I still do, but also to the later. To the question, “Does life begin at conception or birth?” The only adequate answer is, “yes.” There are six basic characteristics that define life: growth, consumption, responsiveness, adaptation, organization, and reproduction. A seventh specific to humanity would be self awareness. Using these seven characteristics, there is no particular point where someone can specifically say, “This is now a living human being.” The process of coming alive for a preborn child is a steady, nine month miracle.
React: Most theologians an commentators try to shy away from the actual analogy of birth when discussing John 3:3. Like I said, birth is a messy process. It is earthy. It is also very… feminine. Since for most of history Biblical scholarship has been done by men and often from an upper, or at least, a scholar class, this attempt to maintain a distance does make sense. There has always been a push to imply that Jesus actually said right from the start, “born from above.” The Greek we have does allow for the faint possibility for this disambiguation. We do have to remember, however, that the discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus actually would have occurred in either Hebrew or Aramaic. If Jesus had said, “born from above” Nicodemus would never have responded the way he did. I believe Jesus wanted the birthing analogy. He didn’t speak by accident. He wanted to point to the miracle of physical birth to be a representation of the miracle of spiritual birth.
He wanted this because both births are simultaneously a process and a singular event. They both happen in a single moment, and also over an extended timeframe. A seed is planted. Deep inside it grows and is nurtured. Long before the moment of birth a heart begins to develop. Awareness and emotions begin to surface. There is a growing ability to truly see and hear. There is a growing ability to recognize and distinguish the voice of the Parent from the noise of strangers. Finally, when that seed has grown and developed and is ready, it enters the world and new life has begun. For physical life, that process is always around nine months. For spiritual life, that process might take days, or weeks, or even years. However long it takes, life just does not begin the moment someone repeats a prayer. It does not just begin the moment a person surrenders their life to God. A lot has happened beneath the surface to bring a person to that moment. There have been miracles deep beneath the surface that have made that person ready to truly enter our world. We can’t see those miracles, but we can continue to pray as God works them out. We don’t know when the surprise and joy of a new birth will burst upon us. All we can do is rejoice and dance with the angels.
God, You know those who I have been praying for. For some I have been praying for days or weeks. For others, it has been decades. Sometimes I feel like they are close. Other times I wonder if this miracle of birth will ever come. You know the miracles You are working deep in their hearts. You know the seeds that have been planted. Nurture them. Grow them. Develop them. Help me to never quit praying and interceding and loving and caring and serving until that day when we are truly surprised by the joy of new birth. Let that day please come quickly. Continue to work in their life for as long as it takes. Let them be born again.