“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). The need for spiritual rebirth is a well-known and oft-used analogy in the scriptures. In the passage above, Jesus is teaching the Jewish leader, Nicodemus, and goes on to teach that two rebirths are necessary – one of the water (baptism) and another of the spirit. Such an analogy has been used by the Lord since our first parents. Adam was taught that baptism of both water and the spirit were necessary,
“And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam, our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water. And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit….” (Moses 5:64-65).
This process of spiritual rebirth was an important part of Adam’s spiritual progression. Only three verses later, the Lord explains to him, “Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons.” (Moses 5:68) Just as the process of our physical development in our mothers’ wombs results ultimately in our physical births and our becoming sons and daughters of our earthly parents, so too our spiritual rebirths lead ultimately, in their fullest sense, to our becoming sons and daughters of Christ.
While I don’t wish to rehearse all of the many scriptures and teachings on the subject of our spiritual rebirth or that of our becoming children of Christ here, there is one in particular I do wish to discuss; one which is taught less frequently.
While our physical bodies are in our mothers’ womb, they are attached to our mother by an umbilical cord. Evidence of this attachment remains with each of us throughout our earthly lives – our navels – and it is not therefore surprising that the Lord would use this to teach symbolically of our own spiritual progression and our need to rely on Him. And so we come to the phrase, “Health in the Navel, Marrow to the Bones”.
To my knowledge there are only two places in scripture where this phrase is used. The first, well known to members of the LDS Church, is in Doctrine and Covenants and is related to the Word of Wisdom. The second is in Proverbs 3. In this post I would like to focus on just the first part of that phrase: “Health in the navel…”
I have often thought of the very obvious symbol used here of the umbilical cord of the baby, with nutrients essential for the baby being passed from the mother through the navel, and how the Saviour similarly wishes to provide spiritual nutrients to us. But I believe that the symbolism goes a little further than this. In Doctrine and Covenants 89, one of the locations where this phrase appears, the scripture begins with the Lord stating that He was here speaking a “word of wisdom” – not given at that time as a commandment, but rather as advice that people should follow.
The passage in Proverbs where this phrase also appears, is also about following the advice of the Lord, and not relying on our own wisdom. In Proverbs we read,
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-8)
So we have two passages where this phrase of health to the navel and marrow to the bones is used, and in both, the essence of the message is that we should rely on the Lord’s wisdom and not our own, of maintaining an appropriate humility in the presence of the Lord. It seems to me that the key message here is that while yes, of course, we should keep the commandments – we should also keep “the suggestions”. This is essential for the full blessings and healing power of the Atonement to come into our lives.
The image of a baby attached to its mother through its navel goes beyond nutrients being received. A baby, while still in its mother’s womb, is totally dependant on its mother for all of its physical needs. The baby isn’t able to breath for itself, so it gets the oxygen that its body needs from its mother’s blood. The baby isn’t able to dispose of waste, such as CO2, so again it uses its mother’s blood. The baby isn’t able to fight infections, so its mother’s antibodies will do so, etc. In like manner, when we humbly rely on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God – whether by commandment, or whether merely by suggestion or word of encouragement – when we genuinely accept that the Lord’s wisdom is greater than our own and with full purpose of heart follow Him; when we accept that we are totally dependant on the Lord: then He is able to take the dross out of our lives, to give us life-giving nutrients and spiritual oxygen, and to fight our battles. He is our spiritual umbilical cord.
Of course, He does all of this to a degree when we keep the commandments – “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say” (D&C 82:10), but by turning our wills over entirely to everything the Lord says, we become subject to the blessings of the Atonement in its entirety also. That sounds like a trade that’s worth it.
But a baby isn’t born in an instant; it takes 9 months to grow from a single cell through to the point where it is born, and can breathe on its own. The baby’s reliance on its mother through this period isn’t solely a reliance to survive. The baby relies wholly on its mother to sustain its life, yes, but also to provide it with the nutrients needed to grow and develop, for each part of its body to become what it should. It is only when this process is complete that the baby is then born and begins the process of learning to act on its own. Similarly, we only truly become free when we learn that we must rely wholly on Him who is mighty to save, even Jesus Christ. He will provide, through His grace, all of the nutrients that we need; He will help us to grow and develop our talents and our natures, to become what they should be.
Just as a baby takes time to grow inside its mother’s womb, for us, the process of being truly born again can’t happen in an instant. While we can very quickly gain a belief and faith in Christ, it takes time for us to learn to rely on Him, by which I mean learning that we need to rely on Him, as well as learning how to rely on Him; for the process of learning to rely on Christ is also a process also of unlearning many things the world has taught us throughout our lives, and which it continues to try to teach us relentlessly day after day. It takes time for us to, through Him, become what we should become.
It is only then that we will be able to develop marrow to the bones – the subject of my next post….