On Dung Beetles and Jesus

I made this little blog post when I was drawing a comic about a surreal world where people wash with poop, eat it as a topping on pizza, and swim in it for recreation. My initial desire was to create an allegorical series that shows how shallow and superficial our philanthropy and affections are. Given that I am a horribly lazy individual, I never brought that series out to fruition (perhaps someday!), but nevertheless thought that this preface to it would be of some passing interest and edification to someone here wondering about the doctrine of regeneration:


The dung beetle is a special breed of beetle, an amazing creature that feasts on feces like fillet mignon. What many people do not know about dung beetles - if they should condescend to know anything about these creatures at all - is that even the different types of dung beetle have different ways that they showcase their scatological love. Some graft themselves to dung, sucking everything they need in life from it like a tick. While others roll the refuse into a ball and bury it like some pirate's treasure. Still others find themselves so ingratiated by dung that they opt to live in it like a celebrity in his mansion. Whatever type of dung beetle it is though, their entire way of life centers on dung. And there is something strange and almost exhilarating about an animal that's whole life involves lifting up what others have laid to waste. Their very nature is focused on everything we would have flushed away.


Despite the reservations we might have rolling around refuse balls or sucking up nutrients from the droppings of animals ourselves, the dung beetle thinks nothing of it.  He goes on his work as casually as we might shop for purses or watch television while choking down Cheetos. While his very being impels him to the poop, most of us find his actions and affections revolting. And it is this relative sense of perspective that leads me wondering how we must be viewed according to the sight and standards of Heaven. If there is indeed a perfect God who wraps Himself in light and holiness, I suspect there would be very little within us He wouldn't be disgusted by and even less in us worth praising. We are, in our own way, bumbling around with our own balls of waste, infatuated by the smells and textures of things that would leave better beings hurling and heaving. I suspect we have underestimated how far we've fallen, and so miscalculated how much we have missed the mark - not only within our lifetime, but daily. Nevertheless, many individuals suppose that they can naturally love more than the excrement - so to speak - that they have been accustomed to love. They suppose that the dung beetle could with enough effort come to enjoy a nice steak paired with an aged wine. But it is not within the dung beetle's nature to love more than the dung, anymore than it is in our nature to love more than the World has to offer. In both instances, the higher things are not only abandoned carelessly; they're rejected outright.


In order for the dung beetle to enjoy steak and wine, his very nature must change. And for the last two thousand years, it has been the Christian church maintaining the same about humanity and its love for God. For a man to love the higher things, to love God and the holiness attributed to Him, the man's nature must also change. Unfortunately, a great number of Christian men and women today believe that for an individual to become a Christian, he or she must merely testify his or her allegiance to Christ and try to live an upstanding life. But this is not enough! It has never been. A dung beetle that pretends to hate dung is still a dung beetle. And a man that reforms his outer actions is no better off than when he started. Because the real problem is within. And it is a problem that Jesus maintains can only solved by being born again. Now, to be born again is not merely to make a choice to accept Christ into your heart, perhaps after some theological debate or emotional altar call. It is not a mere position you hold, like whether to vote Republican or Democrat. To be born again is to have your very nature miraculously altered, to have your direction and drive reoriented, to have everything you loved and everything you hated flipped about and addled like eggs. It is to become something new - like a dung beetle that has morphed into a fruit fly. Or a zombie who suddenly prefers broccoli to brains. To misunderstand this is to misunderstand a principal fact about the Gospel. Many who claim to have been saved by Christ have not been saved, because they have not been changed internally, which is the only way an individual can come to love and follow Him.


But how can a man change his nature? How can a "man who is accustomed to evil do good," anymore than an "Ethiopian can change his skin or a lion his spots?" How can the tares become wheat? How can the goats become sheep? How can the rocky ground become fertile? How can the blind see? Or the deaf hear? Or the lame walk? How can a bad tree team with good fruit? A million and one metaphors are presented in Scripture of things that have no capacity in themselves to change. And the truth is that nothing can change, that we will not accept Christ - for there is nothing desirable about Him to us - unless we are transformed by a miraculous work of God. Jesus says as much when many of His early disciples first left Him. These former followers supposed they came to Jesus and that they were ready to serve Him, but as they listened to Christ preach, they began instead to reject Him. And as they abandoned Him in droves, Christ concluded that "No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:65). Their rejection merely illuminated the fact that God had not prepared their hearts to hear Him. For the saved are not changed because they choose God, but because God chooses to change them. And in that change, when He gives His followers a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26), they can finally accept and love the Son who died for them. It is all very much a mystery though - this change. Christ likens it to the wind in that "the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). God's method for initiating this change is beyond us. It is as if we could one day be walking idly along a city sidewalk, minding our own business, and without notice, begin to think thoughts that are not our own or feel an affection for things we've never loved. This change comes from God, and it is only through this change that one can be saved.


Nevertheless, everyday we hear individuals pledge some nominal allegiance to Christ, where no change of heart exists. There are individuals who attend church regularly, and give to charities, and pray every night, who can recite whole pages of the Bible, and who are kind to the worst of us. But no change of heart has occurred. There are men and women who sit sullen and somber in church pews crying out to the Lord, despite having no true desire for Him. They want comfort, or tradition, or the fellowship of good people, status, or proof of their righteousness. But they do not and will not desire Him. They do not hunger for Him. They do not thirst after Him. They do not treasure Him above all things. They may consider themselves Christians, but the actions of those who have been brought to life by God befuddle and betray what they know of themselves. They cannot relate with the figures of men and women that number the pages of the Gospel. What, after all, in the woman made her wash the Lord with her tears and brush His feet with her hair? What in the tax collector provoked him to cry to the Heavens lamenting his own unworthiness and depravity? Who is this man who would sell everything he owns to gain Christ, as if Christ were an invaluable pearl or treasure? Who were these disciples who left their homes, and jobs, and reputations to follow this Man? Who can say why those who are His blessed are the ones who are weeping, and are meek, and are poor in Spirit? How is it that many individuals today who adopt the label of Christian can find that self-deprecation so alien in their own lives? How is it that those same individuals can have so little desire for Him, when it is clear that the pages of Scripture indicate that the saints wanted nothing else? Who can explain this indifference and self-indulgence except that the follower is really no true follower at all, that the insect crawling in a bowl of fresh fruit only has an affinity for the rotten and repugnant?


And what of the reader? Do you thirst after Him like a fine wine? Can you even stomach Him? Do you have any love for Him at all? And if so, how does that love manifest itself? Do you search the Scriptures daily to discover more about this Man who died nailed to a tree? Do you yearn for the fellowship of others who yearn for Him as well? Do you speak to Him and about Him like you would one you adore? That is to say, do you do what everyone does when it comes to people and things they love? Or is your love for Him dry like a crusty lawn sausage left by your neighbor's beagle? Is your so-called love for Him merely superficial and shallow? Does He mean anything to you at all?

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