There is Hope for a Caterpillar by Bill Stough

The little girl stood in awe of the butterfly that landed on her mother’s hand. Her mother stood very still and the girl reached out and touched it. This was an amazing event to her. All around us butterflies were flying. My wife and I were visiting the Butterfly House in St. Louis.

A butterfly begins as a caterpillar. Nobody would ever believe by looking at a caterpillar that it could transform into a different kind of life form. When the insect is still a caterpillar, it exists only for itself. Its purpose in life is solely to eat, and not be eaten. The caterpillar does this with great efficiency, but it may destroy plants in the process.

Then something incredible begins to happen to the caterpillar, and it attaches itself to a vine or twig and hangs upside down. The following describes what happens with a developing monarch butterfly:

Picture of the chrysalis forming.“While the caterpillar hangs upside down, it molts for the last time. Its skin splits from head to tail. The caterpillar wriggles free of its skin … once the caterpillar is free of its old skin, a hard case forms around its body. The case is called a chrysalis. The insect inside the chrysalis is now called a pupa. The caterpillar’s body changes completely inside the chrysalis. It dissolves, or breaks down, into a green liquid. Butterfly parts such as wings start forming in this soupy mixture. … By the second week, the chrysalis is clearer. … you can see the pupa starting to change into a butterfly. When the chrysalis becomes totally clear, the butterfly is ready to emerge, or come out of its case.”*

The new butterfly hangs there for several hours while he pumps blood into his new wings. He moves those wings and strengthens them. When the wings are strong enough, he flies off. The butterfly now begins his new life and flies from flower to flower eating nectar. In the process he transfers some of the flower’s pollen to other plants, which fertilizes them. Without even thinking about it, he is now making new plants and participates in creating life, whereas once he only lived for himself and had no capacity to do anything differently.

A caterpillar has a certain amount of beauty, but he must be transformed to do any life-giving. He may wish he could do more noble things, but he can’t. Neither can we unless we become a new life form. And we have no power within ourselves to do that. Nonetheless, there are individuals and churches that are still trying to bear Godly fruit on their own without realizing what is wrong.

Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24-25).”

We have to be transformed by Christ and become a new creature. What we have been must die and a different type of being must arise. The power to do that must come from God; it can not come from us. It is a work God does. We can’t do life-giving work unless we have Christ living inside us. All attempts to do so by human power and church “programs” are futile. More is involved than changing human habits.

Butterfly emerging from the chrysalis.

Jesus said: “… No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).”

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. … (Rom 12:2)”

When Jesus lives in us, we are different! A person with the life of God in him is not a “new, improved” human being. It is far more than that, for he is literally a new creature. He is just as different as a caterpillar is to a butterfly.

These changes show up. In John 20:19, the disciples were hiding out for fear of the Jews. But just a short time later in Acts 2, the disciples are transformed by the Holy Spirit and face the crowd forcefully and fearlessly. Many of the Jews in that crowd are then converted.

Jesus has chosen us to bear fruit (John 15:16). But fruit has to be more than numbers. There are many churches that get new members by various programs, but sometimes lose as many people as they get. The real fruit of the Holy Spirit is changed lives, and the fruits are described in Galatians 5.

A caterpillar can’t become something that he is just simply not. Something must happen to him that dramatically changes him into a different creature. That new creature (a butterfly) somehow automatically gives life through his normal, day-to-day activities. We can’t produce Godly fruit either unless Christ literally lives in us.

It is interesting that a monarch butterfly begins its changes in a liquid.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Rom 6:4).”

A butterfly does not immediately appear, but the changes are becoming visible. We too do not become like Christ all at once but we start to develop and others can see it.

caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterflyA caterpillar also has simple eyes that see only light and dark. It finds its way by using its tentacles. But when it becomes a butterfly, it obtains compound eyes that see colors and patterns on flowers that even our human eyes cannot see. The apostle Paul wrote that there are things a spiritual eye can see that the natural person can’t (1Cor 2).

The words of scripture are very deep. Those words can become even deeper when we see them illustrated in nature.

A caterpillar can’t help what he naturally is. But he can be transformed into a new creature. So can we.

*Information and quote for this article are taken from The Life Cycle of a Butterfly, by Bobbie Kalman.

Special thanks go to entomologist Chris Hartley of the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House of St. Louis for answering this author’s queries.

Images courtesy of

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