What We Can Learn from Jesus as a Fetus
I don’t know about you, but understanding certain aspects of God’s nature always leaves me with a profound sense that God understands things with a wisdom and knowledge that I cannot even begin to grasp. Understanding the Trinity, for example, leaves me with a feeling that is both daunting and yet comforting – to be aware of all that I am unaware of is a strange experience but one I enjoy deeply.
On Sunday at Stonebriar Community Church, I had exactly such an experience when the soloist and choir sang “Mary, Did You Know?” This song has become one of my favorites at Christmas, and this was not the first time – or will it probably be the last – that its words caused me to ponder what it meant that Jesus was both a human and yet God – that God somehow was once a baby.
The profound truths revealed in the song’s questions always cause me to wonder what it was like to be Mary:
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.
The Gospels give us the parts of the story God knew we needed for salvation and for becoming more Christ-like. Yet the mother in me always wants to know something additional: what was it like to carry around the Son of God for nine months?
It's a question I might never have answered for me, or one I'll have to wait until I arrive in heaven to ask. But if I get the chance, that's definitely something I’m curious about. Of course, at that time I will be transformed from what I am now, so perhaps I won't need to know anymore. But right now, in December of 2011, it's definitely something I find myself wondering about once again.
A recent blog I wrote on my website only added fuel to the fire of this question. The article is about all the ways in which a fetus is learning while still in the womb. The science of fetal origins is revealing to us more and more just how much a fetus learns before it is ever fully-grown and enters the world. While carrying her child, a mother transmits information to her baby about herself, about her voice, about her culture's foods – and the amazing thing is that her baby receives these messages about the world.
I know it sounds a little strange to say this, but Jesus was once a fetus. So what messages did Jesus receive from Mary? My limited, very human understanding of theology tells me that Jesus went through the same process as any other human baby. Of course, the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union is not one our human minds can ever fully grasp. Yet that doctrine tells me that while Mary carried Jesus, she was teaching Him about the world He would soon enter as Son of Man, a baby – even though as Son of God, He knew everything from the beginning of time.
So naturally my mind wants to try and grasp this: did Jesus, as Son of Man, learn from Mary before being born? And if yes, then, what?
I would love to speculate on this with you for hours. But I don't think it would be very practical to spend all our time on abstract thoughts that we will never be able to understand until we are standing before God. So instead, I want to offer a few lessons we can take away from this early relationship between Jesus and Mary and apply it to our own lives as teachers and parents.
1. Jesus, as Son of Man, learned from Mary before He was born. Again, this is so great a thought to ponder and try to comprehend. For me, knowing that education begins before birth is a life-changing insight. And if Jesus Himself went through this as a fetus, then it is even more imperative that we understand, respect, and value the time a baby spends in the womb. If a baby is already achieving amazing feats of learning while still a fetus, then we must do all we can to protect that period of life.
2. Learning is not done in isolation. This might seem obvious, but sometimes things can be so obvious that we cease seeing their immediate significance. This is a big one; one that has important consequences for teachers. If babies are learning before they are even born, then that means that even when they are unable to see or communicate with other human beings, they are already learning from other people nonetheless. Even before birth, learning is a communal effort. The community, of course, extends to the church. In fact, the community is the church, as Luke explains so beautifully in Acts chapter two.
Sometimes being a Sunday school teacher can become viewed as simply a volunteer position, a way to keep the kids busy while the adults do the ‘real’ business of the church. I think it is the exact opposite: the business of the church is to teach children about God's Word, God's love, and God's Son. Since you're reading this blog, you probably already agree. But not everyone else does. So we need to tell them. If God planned it that babies would begin their communal life even before birth, then that is a pretty strong message that He wants the community to continue teaching and reaching children. It starts at home, of course. But the role of the Sunday school teacher starts earlier than even ‘regular’ school and provides an avenue for reaching and teaching children that no other relationship can.
3. Teach your class with excellence. If numbers one and two are correct – and I believe with all my heart they are – then there is one more take away lesson: your role in each child's life who enters your classroom is of the utmost importance – as well as those whom you encounter who never set foot in your classroom. Those kids are part of the community, the church, too. Preparing your lesson for Sunday or speaking with a child you’ve never met before just might be the most impactful thing you accomplish all week. Or all year.
We might never know what it was like to be Mary, or what Jesus was like as a child or in the womb. But as with all God's messages, we have enough information to realize the incredibly important role God gave to everyone who encounters His children. He starts their learning process in the womb. So let’s make sure we keep it going when that child shows up to our classroom for 60-90 minutes each week. Even if it is only one time that they come, our Creator seems to indicate that that little child is capable of learning much – if someone will just take the time to teach them.