Birth is our universal means of arrival in life. We can’t begin to experience all that life has to offer until we have passed through the moment of birth. Life has a formative phase in the womb that the psalmist describes beautifully:
You alone created my inner being. You knitted me together inside my mother. I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this. My bones were not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, when I was being skillfully woven in an underground workshop. Your eyes saw me when I was only a fetus. Everyday of my life was recorded in your book before one of them had taken place. PSALM 139:13-16
Scripture repeatedly reminds us that birth, whether physical or spiritual, is an act of God (Deut 32:18). Ultimately, no life exists apart from God’s sovereign will. Scripture records many instances of barren women giving birth to remind us of this truth: Sarah (Issac), Rebekah (Jacob), Manoah’s wife (Samson), Hannah (Samuel), and Elizabeth (John the Baptist). And of course the virgin birth of Christ is the prime example of birth being a supernatural event.
BIRTH AND PAIN
Birth is first mentioned in Scripture in connection with the fall of humankind. One of the results of sin entering the world was an increase in pain connected with birth (Gen 3:16). For this reason, childbirth is a symbol for pain that comes with a hopeful conclusion in mind. Just as a mother anxiously awaits the birth of her child, Paul tells us that all of creation eagerly awaits redemption: “We know that all creation has been groaning with the pains of childbirth up to the present time” (Rom 8:22). And Jesus talked about the anguish of waiting for his appearance as the hopeful pains at the end of a woman’s pregnancy (John 16:21-22). He looked not only to the relatively brief agony the disciples would suffer during his crucifixion and death-followed by his astounding resurrection-but also to the joyous redemption it would bring.
BIRTH AND TIMING
Closely related to the pain of birth is the fact that one never know when the moment of birth will occur. So childbirth is also a symbol for an event that is expected but will begin at an unknown moment-we know it will come and are even eager for it to begin, but we don’t quite know when it will happen. That is why Paul describes God’s amazing and priceless offer of eternal life as a wonder just as unexpected as birth pangs for a woman who cannot bear children (Gal 4:27). And when Jesus describes the terrible events that will occur as the world lives its final days, he equates the early troubles to birth pangs: “Nation will fight against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes and famines in various places. These are only the beginning pains of the end” (Mark 13:8). The pain of these events and their unknown timing make childbirth perfect metaphor.
BIRTH AND REBIRTH
Personal discoveries and enlightening experiences are often described with the phrase “I felt like I was born again.” Those who know the Bible immediately think of a specific use of that phrase in Jesus’ life (John 3:1-16). The idea of birth or rebirth in a spiritual sense was not entirely new among the people to whom Jesus was speaking (Ezek 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-29), but it did not make sense to Nicodemus until Jesus explained that God himself is intimately involved not only in our physical birth but also our spiritual birth. In the Gospel of John, this connection is made early, speaking of Jesus:
He went to his own people, and his own people didn’t accept him. However, he gave the right to become God’s children to everyone who believed in him. These people didn’t become God’s children in a physical way-from a human impulse or from a husband’s desire to have a child. They were born from God (1:11-13)
Just as physical birth is a gift of God, so is spiritual birth. It is like the wind, unable to be controlled by human beings. It is also a new beginning that initiates a natural process of growth. That’s why birth is such a fitting symbol for salvation.
When Jesus said, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:3), he was declaring that people can live their entire lives without being born in the way that ultimately matters. The apostle Paul confirms this idea by explaining that we’re all stillborn spiritually: “You were once dead because of your failures and sins” (Eph 2:1). John has already clearly stated that the birth being discussed cannot be achieved by our own desires or the desire of any other human (John 1:11-13). It’s up to God and his grace. “But God is rich in mercy because of his great love for us. We were dead because of our failures, but he made us alive together with Christ Jesus and has given us a position in heaven with him” (Eph 2:5-6).