A number of years ago my wife and I spent a long weekend on Jekyll Island. It’s a beautiful little spot on the Georgia coast where the barons of yesteryear built “cottages” (more like mansions) and a clubhouse on what was then a private island.
There a group of them gathered in 1910 to lay the foundations of what would become the Federal Reserve financial system. After World War II the island was purchased by the state of Georgia and is now operated as a state park. As a history buff there’s plenty to see and learn at Jekyll Island!
One of the places we visited was the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Here, turtles injured by fishing, boating or other means are brought from all over the East Coast for rehabilitation and recovery. It’s also where you can learn a lot about turtles — and the unique challenges facing them as the coastline becomes more and more developed.
You see, baby sea turtles aren’t born; they’re hatched. Climbing out of the water at night, the “mother” turtle lays her 100 or so eggs in a shallow pit, covering them with sand to provide camouflage from predators. After a couple months (depending on the soil temperature) the baby turtles hatch and begin digging their way out of their pit.
But here’s where things get tricky. Instinct tells the newly-hatched turtles to crawl toward the brightest horizon — which at night would naturally be the ocean. But the construction of homes and communities along the coast creates light pollution that may mislead the little guys — often to their demise. If they do not reach the water fairly quickly, they will either dehydrate or be eaten by birds or crabs.
As I learned about the nesting of the sea turtles I couldn’t help but draw a distinction between how God made them and how God made us. He could have created mankind like turtles, to hatch and be independent from our earliest days. But he didn’t. The Bible says that God made man in his own image, male and female (Genesis 1:26-27), and designed for relationship (Genesis 2:24). In his infinite wisdom he designed babies to need a family, to be dependent on relationships and community. If a baby doesn’t have some relationship, it will die.
But that’s not all. Jesus uses the illustration of being born again (John 3) to help us understand what it means to become part of the saved. And once again he makes it clear that we’re not born again (spiritual birth) in solitude, but in relationship and community. The new believers in the New Testament are always brought to salvation through the instrumentality of the church. An angel could have explained Isaiah to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), or given Bible studies to Saul after he met Jesus on the Damascus road (Acts 9). But instead God worked specifically and intentionally to bring them in contact with his church.
Of course, salvation is very much a personal matter: a relationship between the soul and the Savior. But the very means by which entrance to the church occurred, baptism, is something one cannot do by themselves. In other words, Christians are born, not hatched. We’re designed to grow in community, a church family where we can have brothers and sisters (to get on our nerves and) to help us learn about relationships and unselfishness, of love and patience, and to help us become more like Jesus.
Aren’t you glad Jesus didn’t tell Nicodemus, “You must be hatched again”?
Chester Clark III is pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dalton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on the third Friday of the month.