The word mystery has a variety of meanings depending upon the context. I like the following one the best, which comes from Webster’s Dictionary: a mystery is “something not understood or beyond understanding.” Now, it is true that through the disciplines of science, sociology, psychology, and philosophy that mankind has gained knowledge, understanding, and wisdom about himself and his place in the world. Have these disciplines fully exhausted all the avenues for providing the clearest picture of mankind and his place in creation? The honest answer is no. This is not to demean the advances made in the fields of science, sociology, psychology, philosophy and so forth. My point is that with each new advancement has come another layer of complexity about the human condition. There is always an unknown needing to be tackled and studied. Is there a limit to man’s capacity for understanding who he is? The following verse provides some necessary food for thought:
“As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything” (Ecclesiastes 11:5, ESV).
Here is the same verse in another translation, which makes the point even clearer:
“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things” (Eccl. 11:5, NIV).
In this passage, we see that there are two things about the created order that remain imperceptible or inscrutable to mankind. Those two things are the paths that the winds take and the formation of a baby inside a mother’s womb. On a windy day, the effects are seen with ease: leaves blow everywhere, trash flutters all over, and the blades of grass bend as do the trees. Despite these effects, the wind itself remains unseen. Of course, Meteorologists and climatologists today use high precision equipment to determine the velocity of the winds; however, there is not one instrument that can make these atmospheric winds visible to the naked eye. They will remain unseen forever no matter how advanced the science and technology. The invisible quality of the wind is an objective fact, which points to other realities within creation that remain unseen, too.
If the invisible quality of wind alludes to other aspects of nature that are unseen, then it makes sense for the author to bring up the formation of a baby within the womb. Here we have something that is apart of nature, it’s unseen and something of a mystery. Before elaborating on this point, I want to acknowledge the fact that scholars debate over whether humans are three part or two part beings. Some hold to trichotomy or the view that humans comprise a body, soul, and spirit. There are others who embrace dichotomy, and believe that humans are a body and soul or spirit. Regardless of where one lands on this point, the mystery associated with babies growing in the womb lies with the formation of the soul and the body or the immaterial with the material. How does the immaterial aspect of a man or a woman unite with the physical inside of a physical person within a physical space (the womb)? It is vital to hear the wonder and befuddlement expressed in that question. This is exactly the point of Ecclesiastes 11:5.
Over the last two decades, the field of medicine has made extravagant leaps in monitoring the health of pregnant women and their unborn babies. Ultrasound technology enables physicians, mothers, and fathers to observe the development of a child in the womb. It is important for me to say at this point that I am using the word observe in a loose way. I do believe that the point is clear. An ultrasound shows something taking place in the womb, but it does not reveal the nuts and bolts. Despite the advancements in the field of medicine down through the centuries, physicians are far from uncovering how the body and soul join together in the womb. At what point does the spirit unite with the body: as a zygote, an embryo, or fetus? To even pose such a question borders on the fantastic because it obliterates all known science about the development process of a baby within the womb. It is a profound mystery, which rightly provokes awe and humility.
Every human being who has ever lived began in the womb. We share something in common: the mystery of life. It seems to me that the formation of a human being within the womb points out mankind’s limitations with respect to knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in this core aspect of life. To my mind, this means sitting back in awe and wonder at who I am and my friends, family, strangers and all people throughout the world. The author of Ecclesiastes 11:5 took some time in his day to ponder how life forms in the womb. He saw where man’s understanding hit a brick wall in this area. No physician, psychologist, theologian, philosopher or scientist will ever comprehend how the immaterial unites with the material inside the womb. It is a wholly divine act, which underscores how finite or limited human beings really are at the deepest level. There is bitter irony here, too. How is it that humanity lacks such basic understanding about our origin in the womb, and then decide to end that life through court decisions and laws? Where do we get the idea that we have control over life in the womb, but the very nature of it only underscores our profound ignorance and finiteness?