A Courteous Contrararian

John 1:13

Written By: Jon - Jul• 02•12

I love to read the Bible. I start the first thing in the morning, while I wait for coffee to brew. There is something about my physical state in those first minutes that is conducive to a different take on Scripture.

I’ve heard that the groggy feeling we experience in the first minutes after sleep is symptomatic of a short period of high blood pressure as the body readjusts from a time of rest. I can feel that the neural paths within my brain haven’t yet aligned to begin my accustomed mode of thought. I am not yet thinking as I usually do.

This is a valuable time for me, because I can read a passage through a purer lens, unencumbered by the subtext of what I have been taught a passage means. Without the colorations of doctrine or tradition, there is more room for the Spirit to illuminate. It’s almost ironic that the Bible can come alive in a new way exactly because my whole brain is not yet firing on all cylinders. I am weaker so the Spirit is stronger.

Here’s an example of what I mean. It comes from the first chapter of John.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – Jhn 1:12-13 ESV

We all know what it means when we read it. We are spiritually reborn as children of God. It is not a fleshly incident. When we are born-again, it is not of blood, like our first birth, it is of God.

One morning, I wondered about the middle of verse 13. It seemed an unnecessary  interjection, an expansion of the concept just explained. Without it, blood would have been contrasted with spirit just as well, and the work of God juxtaposed with the work of humanity. Why add the two additional phrases?

I think the phrases in question are there to show us something valuable: how God views human reproduction. He sees it as the will of the flesh or the will of man.

The will of the flesh is such poetic language. It is our hormones in high gear, testosterone and estrogen coursing through our veins until our better judgment takes a back seat. This sometimes leads to the Lover’s Lane conception, the fruit of the sins of our youth. This is David and Bathsheba, and perhaps even Amnon and Tamar. It is Isaac and Rebekah, meeting and marrying in short order. It is, for good or for bad, the passion and drive God has instilled in us, our instinct to go forth and multiply.

I originally thought of Amnon’s taking of Tamar as an example of the second phrase, the will of man. After all, she didn’t have a say in the matter. But to interpret the will of man in that way would show a low opinion of us, perhaps even lower than God meant to communicate. It would mean we were all conceived through lust or rape.

Now I think the will of man means something different. It can be the will of a man or the will of a woman, but it most likely means the will of both. It refers to the planned pregnancy. Often a child is conceived not as a product of passion, but out of a desire for a child. When we decide it is time, the woman discontinues birth control and the man conserves his potency, waiting for a period of maximum fertility. The desire for the child takes precedence over the desire for pure pleasure.

Evolutionary biologists would explain this second option as a matter of blood as well, or at least as a matter of our DNA. They hypothesize that is not a hormonal reaction so much as a desire to ensure the continuation of the species. The will of humanity as encoded in the depths of our bodies. If this view is even somewhat valid, not of blood becomes the headline and the will of man and the will of the flesh become subcategories.The categorization fits reality. Natural reproduction now is either planned or unplanned.

The interesting part of this meditation, to me, is how it would modify our view of who does what in regard to a precious soul brought to life. Genesis seems to teach that all children are a result of God’s planning. Isaac was a supernatural intervention from God. Sarah was barren and the prototype for a women of God. She was the first in a long line of barren women. God opened Leah’s womb. Rachel was barren. Samuel’s mother was barren. People were begatting all over the place, but it wasn’t so easy for God’s chosen line of humanity. It feels like God decided who would have what child and when. This is a far cry from the will of the flesh or the will of man. This is the will of God.

But there is a way to reconcile the view across the Testaments. We can view the barrenness of our women of faith as a withholding of the natural order, God sovereignly trumping the will of the flesh or of man, and doing so for a specific purpose. What could such a purpose be? Our stock answer is to bring himself glory. This could be true without being the Lord’s primary purpose. Everything of God brings God glory.

Perhaps God’s primary purpose for an extended period of barrenness was to instill a greater maturity in the parents. We know God brings us to maturity through perseverance, and maybe greater maturity leads to more godly offspring. I read once that the majority of geniuses are born to fathers older than 50. We think of genius as genetic, and maybe a fluke of nature, but the plus-fifty factor points to nurture component as well.

It is comforting to believe this might be a consideration. Now, the barrenness these women suffered through was not God making an arbitrary point, but him molding and shaping the children he loved through an advanced maturity he brought about in the parents he loved.

This idea, once the coffee had kicked in, led to all sorts of speculation about childhood in early Genesis, but that’s a meditation for another day.




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