Two people I care for deeply have gone into Hospice Care as they prepare to end their time on earth, so I have been giving some thought to the subject of death.
For centuries, the Christian Church has embraced the idea of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a butterfly as a symbol for death and resurrection for a Christian. I recently learned some interesting facts about this metamorphosis that enrich my understanding of the miracles that takes place in metamorphosis and in the resurrection.
Once a caterpillar encloses itself in a chrysalis on its way to turning from caterpillar to butterfly, if you would cut open the chrysalis, you would find a gooey soup that does not appear to resemble either a caterpillar or a butterfly. It is not that the caterpillar body shrinks and grow wings. The transformation is so extreme that the in-between state does not resemble what it was or what it will become. In 1 Corinthians 15 (verses 42-44a and 50-54), the apostle Paul states, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body…. I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” When Christ lifts us from earth to heaven, we will be transformed into children of God with glorious bodies. The earthbound nature of our bodies that are susceptible to disease and disabilities and pain and death will be gone. Oh what a wonder we will find ourselves to be!
Interestingly, though, it was pointed out to me that if you carefully dissect a caterpillar, you can find the essence of the butterfly’s wings tucked tightly under the skin of the caterpillar’s back even before its metamorphosis. It strikes me that key elements of what Christ will transform us into have already begun in us in our lives on earth. In Philippians 1:4-6, Paul writes to believers, “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” When Christ enters our hearts, He begins to do a good work in us, and He will not stop doing His good work in us until He brings it to completion at the time that He calls us home. What has God begun to build into our lives? Godly love. Transcending peace. Divine joy. If the fact of the essence of a butterfly being hidden even in a caterpillar is similar to what is true for us, then we have a glimpse of what heaven will be like: The love and peace and joy that have begun to emerge in our souls will be brought to magnificent completion in our transformation in heaven!
One scientist performed an experiment on some caterpillars. The scientist kept exposing the caterpillars to a horrible smell which caused them to turn away in disgust. After their metamorphosis, the scientist exposed the butterflies to the same smell that had so disgusted them as caterpillars. Butterflies do not usually respond to atrocious smells, but these butterflies fled from the smell because they had been so conditioned to turn away from it while they were caterpillars. The scientist took hope from this, suggesting that if evidence shows that a butterfly remembers something from its caterpillar life, perhaps we will also remember things from our earthly life when we get to heaven. As a Christian, I believe this to be true. I believe that we will know our loved ones. But I see something else about this scientific test that challenges me. If the butterfly is repulsed by the smell that repulsed the caterpillar, what will repulse us in heaven? If heaven is a place of the fullness of love and goodness, then there is no place for anything that is cruel or harmful in anyway. If I will be repulsed by such things in heaven, should I put up with such things in myself in the present? If heaven is, indeed, a place of the fullness of love and goodness, should I not be developing a longing for such things now? Could this be part of the reason why the Beatitudes call us to “hunger and thirst for righteousness”?