April 1, 2021

​Cocoon Christianity

A cocoon. A butterfly. A life lesson.

Lael Caesar

Cocoon Christianity doesn’t have to believe in butterflies. Doesn’t have to, because getting to be a cocoon already proves your willingness to go all the way. With Jesus. Remember that this is about Christianity, not about metamorphosis.

Not Cocoons Anyway

Cocoons have already come a long way: they’ve been eggs; they’ve been larvae; they’ve done enough. Moreover, potential butterflies object to being called cocoons. They aren’t—except for two, the satyr and the parnassian butterfly. Apart from that, they’re chrysalides. They’d like you to know that while moths do cocoon, they do not. Butterflies do chrysalis. You may not appreciate the important difference, but butterflies do. And it isn’t conceit: it’s being careful about terminology. Because moths are not butterflies, they are moths. Calling butterfly pupae cocoons does not befit their stature—or whatever more meek and Christian language you’d prefer. They can’t say anything about class, because Mr. Linnaeus already lumped them all together into one huge class called the six-leggers (hexapoda), later, insecta, largest class in the largest phylum (subdivision) in the animal kingdom.

All these things Jesus spoke to the multitude in parables; and without a parable He did not speak to them (Matt 13:34).

More to the point, you Christians are so committed to judging people on superficial things like words. Meanwhile, what matters to butterflies at this point is a real distinction, the one between themselves and moths, even when they stall at their pupal stage and refuse to move on to something else. They don’t need to become something else. Something else like what? Like moths?

Chrysalid Concern

Chrysalides hold in their pupae a strong concern about all the flapping and flailing and flying of full-blown butterflies. All that flying doesn’t make them any more birds; cucaracha, (cockroaches), maybe, but not real fliers like birds. Besides, bird, cucaracha, whatever, the effort of it too clearly suggests a creature’s works instead of the Creator’s awesome power and the Redeemer’s gracious salvation. Moreover, there’s a conspicuousness to the flailing and fluttering that departs from the spirit of humility so fundamental to pupae . . . to cocoons. I mean, to chrysalides.

Growing-Up Steps

Cocoons used to be eggs once. Eggs are a beginning phenomenon. Lots of people today object to being told “and it was so” as in the Genesis creation story. They find it more interesting to keep asking the question, Which came first—chicken or egg? The answer is, of course, the chicken: “God said, ‘. . . let birds fly’” (Gen. 1:20). And butterflies and moths and their skipper friends, even the despised cucaracha, it seems, were part of that fifth day’s first order of business. What could God have been thinking? What could He have been intending? What was the first couple to think? And what could their current existence, numbers, and behavior possibly teach us today—about cocoon theology?

We should first concede that we cannot say definitively what these creatures looked, sounded, moved, interacted like, in the beginning. The best of our questions may well remain unanswered until. . . . Until we converse on the matter directly with our infinite Creator God. Still, living with yesterday’s secrets, while looking to learn from creation today does serve divine purposes, it appears, as words from Job, cautiously applied, may suggest: “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; and the birds of the air, and they will tell you” (Job 12:7).

As for our cocooning and noncocooning creatures, the Hebrew calls them sherets ha‘oph (swarming fliers), where sherets connects them to the ground, more particularly, to small creatures like mice and geckos; and ‘ôph, from ‘ûph, connects them to the sky, specifically to birds, because it means “to fly.” Consider, then, that these ridiculous seeming paradoxes represent the most successful response of all the animal kingdom to the divine instruction to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:22). These creeping and scuttling nuisances, flailing too, about, in so-called flight, these absurdities of the divine creation—at least as they now appear to us—constitute more in species, sheer numbers, and distribution across the earth’s ecological zones than all of brilliant humanity, elegant beasts or soaring avians combined, with 1 or 2 or 5 million species in all, counting both living and extinct.

Among them are our cocoons and chrysalides.

The Great Pupae Controversy

Which leads me to wonder about the attitude of chrysalides in our parable. It may be somewhat uncharitable to make this kind of connection, but their fussy anxiety to be distinctive evokes for me such a stern warning from Jesus Himself, one about the theologians, better known in New Testament times as scribes: “Beware of the scribes,” He says. And why? Well, their drive to stand out impels them to fairly farcical behavior: their thing is “to go around in long robes” (Mark 12:38). Stagnated chrysalides object strongly to such behavior. Given what we’ve heard from them, we can see that their commitment is to avoid the ostentation of going around in long robes, fluttering by in scintillating colors. For them true religion is very denominational and totally nondemonstrative. They’ve already told us how suspicious they are of fluttering and flailing, sighing and flying. For them passionate involvement in activities that the teeming millions (of sherets ha‘oph and beyond) readily recognize and even identify with, is strictly a nonstarter: all that fascination with social issues that takes them into the streets, publicly protesting against callous and cruel conduct coming from those who are expected to be peace officers is clearly political and thus clearly irreligious. In fact, honest confession would be that it’s socialist, and true chrysalides want nothing to do with socialism.

So they stay where they are, hanging from the tree—like Jesus, they may say: forever and ever acknowledging His dying, agreeing with Paul about dying all the time (1 Cor. 15:31); ever remembering, ever pronouncing the “thou shalt not”s; paying tithe “of mint and anise and cumin”; [traveling] land and sea to win one proselyte,” then making him [yes, “him”] “twice as much a son of  hell as [themselves]” (Matt. 23:15); oblivious to the aborted contradiction of life, growth, charity, practical godliness and eternal joy in living and service that they are; insensitive to the simple virtue of going about doing good, as Jesus of Nazareth did (Acts 10:38); uninformed about the greater blessedness of giving (Acts 20:35), or the reality of the lifelong ministry of the very One they claim as leader: “having a form . . . but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the great butterfly versus moth, chrysalid versus cocoon controversy the droves have gathered: rallying droves of conscientious moth pupae, resisting, rejecting, repudiating all that the chrysalides claim to stand for. If chrysalides are against social justice, then they are for it; if chrysalides cannot speak the word “socialist” without spitting—if, to speak the word, they must spit it out, then the moth pupae, the true cocoons, will speak it with sympathy. They do so not because they themselves subscribe to any Marxist dialectic, but because socialism is itself an inherently wonderful idea already demonstrated, they insist, in the life of the early church.

Being born is neither the end nor the climax of life.

The true cocoons know that life makes sense only when one discovers the reason they are here. And the most excellent reason for being here is to help fell
ow humanity, instead of living with the notion of a fantastic tomorrow where pain and suffering will be no more. True cocoons are determined not to be so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good. So, rather than obsess about some supernatural transformation that will fit them for life on a cloud, in the sky, way up high, in some sweet by and by, they live for the present, in the moment, liberated from arbitrary constraints about what people can do and can’t, about details of their life and lifestyle that are their own business; but unstinting in their service to those they refer to, using antiquated language and fossilized phrases: e.g., “the least of these,” “a cup of cold water,” sheep versus goats (Matt. 25:40, 45, 32; 10:42). The occasional seventeenth-century turn of phrase proves them to be part of the spiritual community they look down upon; it shows that while they freely associate with elements of society motivated by socialist agendas their ethical identity is not lost. They know who they are and what they are doing. They are realistic about human need and make a difference “where the rubber meets the road”—not an ancient saying, but another of the cocoons’ favorites. They show their faith by their works (James 2:18): they support Prison Fellowship’s annual Angel Tree project, protest with the Black Lives Matter movement, pay dues to the American Civil Liberties Union, contribute financially to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and build houses for poor, single mothers with Habitat for Humanity.

Born to Lose?

The standoff or hang-on between the chrysalides and cocoon pupae holds no promise of victory—not for either of them in their present estate and mental state. Whether they know it or not, they are both doomed. Immaturity dressed in grown-up’s clothes is either a cutie’s floor show or a tragedy. The 4-year-old girl trying to walk in mom’s heels amuses us all so long as she doesn’t fall. The young adult, middle-aged woman, or old man, throwing tantrums, is a cringeworthy embarrassment to everyone cursed to contemplate the pathetic spectacle. Chrysalides are not the real enemy of moth pupae: their mutual stagnation is. And the answer that will deliver both the parable’s chrysalides and cocoons from their arrested development is growth. For now, they live in a time warp where each evaluates its inadequacies in relation to the other, concluding that it is superior because it has none of the other’s failings.

For the cocoon to win, the chemical ecdysone needs to get to work enabling the moth to cast off its outer coating. Then enzymes called caspases proceed to tear up cells in its muscles, digestive system, and other organs. And the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming the born-again sinner into a revealer of the divine likeness is its own never-ending work of tearing down and building up.

To change the metaphor while highlighting the challenge of it: “The Christian life is a battle and a march. In this warfare there is no release; the effort must be continuous and persevering. . . . Christian integriy must be sought with resistless energy and maintained with a resolute fixedness of purpose.”* And as surely as a cocoon or chrysalis will never fly without this shredding and constructing, just so surely the milk-imbibing Christian will never attain to the measure of the stature of Christ’s fullness without daily submission to the will of heaven working within to will and to do of God’s good pleasure (see Heb. 5:12, 13; Phil. 2:13). Being born is neither the end nor the climax of life. Children born of God will not be contented with being cocoons. Hence Peter’s encouragement to milk-drinking Christians: “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).

The metaphor is consistently applied between Paul and Peter: for the latter, milk is to help you grow; for the former, that growth takes you to the place where you have matured beyond baby behavior: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man [i.e., mature], I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11).

The Climax. The Summary

Like politicians in the news, Christians today are presented the option of alignment in contrasting camps over against each other, subtly engaging the language of Scripture, obsessing with terminology, not merely to validate our own perspective and agenda, but to denounce the other. Our times affirm the possibility of living as enemy Christians, refocused away from Jesus and the promise of progressive perfection in Him. Or we may choose Christ’s own option of all serving in the common vocation to which we all are called (Eph. 4:1), while recognizing the privilege of distinctive stewardships (1 Cor. 4:1, 2; 12:4; Eph. 4:7). Keen Christians will let God do the calling, and affirm each other in the ministries to which He calls each one.

In evil times evil men drove their slaves by the lash. But the powers of duress and tyranny, however brutal, cannot hold a candle to the blazing light of the love of God—in Eden, in Gethsemane, at Calvary. It is a love that leaves us no choice. So born-again children of God, born to incorruptibility (1 Peter 1:23), growing together, developing, maturing, working—together—constrained by the incomparable force of heaven’s love, shall soon attain, God grant, unto whatever His purpose may be for us this side of glory. And subsequently, beyond our glorification, He shall continue in us His wondrous transformation as we work together with Him, doing the will of God our Father, with all our heart, and forever (Eph. 6:6).

* Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 453.

Lael Caesar is an associate editor of Adventist Review.