Water, Blood, and Spirit: The Powerful Connection Between Childbirth and the Atonement of Christ

Last October, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland delivered the consummate quote on motherhood, sure to find its way onto Mother’s Day handouts for years to come: "No love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child.” Throughout the scriptures, the Lord uses the example of motherly love to help illustrate his perfect love for each of us. To the prophet Isaiah he said, "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yeah, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee" (Isaiah 49:15).  Later, in the book of Hosea, Christ likens himself to a mother bear defending her cubs. (Hosea 13:8). Many times he compared himself to a mother hen pleading, “How oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings."

Powerful as it may be, the likeness between mothers and Christ does not end with the tenacious love they both demonstrate. In the same talk, Elder Holland connected the act of childbirth with the Atonement by pointing out the common language describing both.

“Prophesying of the Savior’s Atonement, Isaiah wrote, “He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” A majestic latter-day vision emphasized that “[Jesus] came into the world … to bear the sins of the world.” Both ancient and modern scripture testify that “he redeemed them, and bore them, and carried them all the days of old.” A favorite hymn pleads with us to “hear your great Deliv’rer’s voice!”

Bear, borne, carry, deliver. These are powerful, heartening messianic words. They convey help and hope for safe movement from where we are to where we need to be—but cannot get without assistance. These words also connote burden, struggle, and fatigue—words most appropriate in describing the mission of Him who, at unspeakable cost, lifts us up when we have fallen, carries us forward when strength is gone, delivers us safely home when safety seems far beyond our reach...

But can you hear in this language another arena of human endeavor in which we use words like bear and borne, carry and lift, labor and deliver? As Jesus said to John while in the very act of Atonement, so He says to us all, “Behold thy mother!”

These similarities between childbirth and the Atonement are not happenstance. In the meridian of time, a hesitant Pharisee named Nicodemus sought Jesus under the cover of night, seeking to be taught by the Master (see John 3:5). 

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God,” the Savior taught Nicodemus.

Nicodemus niavely responded, "Can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb?"

Jesus patiently replied, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

We know water is referencing baptism, and the spirit is the gift of the Holy Ghost. But the Savior is also making a direct connection between the physical birth required for entrance into mortality and the spiritual rebirth required for entrance into the Kingdom of God. Many centuries earlier, when father Adam asked the Lord why we must be baptized, the Lord taught the sacred connection between physical birth and spiritual rebirth:

That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten;
— Moses 6:59

I trust I don’t need to review the physical details. We can’t remember our own, but for anyone who has seen and experienced the miracle of birth, the words "water, blood, and spirit” likely conjure vivid feelings and memories.

I find it profound and beautiful how the Lord equates spiritual rebirth via his Atonement with physical birth via our mothers. With further reflection, these two births become parallel pillars of the plan of salvation. We typically give spiritual rebirth all the attention, and rightfully so. Physical birth is past and done. But rewinding to the premortal life, physical birth was the next essential step. Entering into mortality is just as important as baptism, marriage, death, and even resurrection.

Motherhood and childbirth are sacred, essential elements of God's plan. Without physical birth allowing God’s children to enter mortality, the Atonement not only doesn’t matter but doesn’t even exist. How fitting that Eve, the mother of all living, made the initial decision to partake of the fruit and later reflected, 

“Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.”
— Moses 5:11

Physical birth is an essential part of the plan and serves as a vivid precursor to and symbol of the second birth. If childbirth is a symbol of the Atonement, then women are symbols of Christ, and the sacred capacity to bring children into the world deserves our utmost respect and honor. Little wonder sexual sin is so grevious. Little wonder the Lord's Church works relentlessly to defend the sanctity of parenthood and family. Little wonder that from Eden all the way to modern politics, Satan works so hard to debase womanhood and procreation. 

As I think of my daughters growing older and deciding how to live and who to be, I can't think of much I'd rather have them know, deep in their hearts, than just how special they are to their Heavenly Father and HIs plan. I hope each of my children see sooner than I did that their mother really is the greatest example of Christlike love they will likely encounter in their lives.