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The Gospel in a Tulip

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. -- Psalm 19:1-4a

From the nineteenth Psalm it is evident that the creation of God testifies of the glory and Authorship of God. So it is that by considering the creation one may learn some things about God's glory; although a personal knowledge of God can only come about through the written word, which is the Holy Bible. In the light of this, one may ask if there is any specific example which can be pointed to in nature and which speaks of the glory of God as proclaimed by the Gospel. As one might suspect, given such passages as quoted above and Romans 1:18-20, such does occur. One of the clearest of these testimonies is found in the tulip.

A tulip has six petals. Three of them are on the outside of the flower, forming a triangular-looking outline: the other three form a more circular outline which is nested inside the cup of the outer three petals. Now in the Bible the number six is related to mankind.

The triangular form of the outer petals suggests masculinity while the rounder form of the inner petals suggests femininity. Men are not only built more angularly, physically, than women; but they tend to be more concerned with angular things. The use of triangles for stability in the realm of construction and engineering is one example. The development and importance of trigonometry in the fields of mathematics and science affords another example. Women, on the other hand, tend to be more concerned with such cyclical activities as needlework and weaving. They also tend to have greater regard for social circles. In addition, there is also their unquestioned role in the life cycle of mankind.

Although the rounder petals fall almost entirely inside the angular ones, there are three points where each of the inner petals has a prominent rib; a rib of which there is only the vaguest of suggestions at the centers of the outer petals. (There is, however, a hint of a number of fine ribs coming together at the tip of the outer petal; a suggestion which is completely lacking in the inner petals.) All in all this is reminiscent of Adam's rib as related in Genesis 2:21-24. Thus the petals suggest a marriage in form and symbol; and in the Scriptures, marriage is not restricted to just that between a man and a woman, but there is also the marriage of the Lord and his Bride.

At the very bottom of the inside of the flower, at the point where the ribs of the outer and inner petals meet and cross, there start the six stamina. These are aligned along the centers of the petals and come to a point at their tips so that their overall appearance resembles a six-pointed star. This is emphasized in some varieties of tulips by the presence of a starburst coloration in the petals themselves, a coloration which forms a hexagon with the stamina pointing midway between the six points of the hexagon. The star-like appearance (bright yellow in the photo) is reminiscent of the Mogan David, the Star of David. The same is mentioned in Numbers 24:17 and in Matthew 2:2 as heralding the birth of the Messiah. Thus it would seem that the stamina have something to say about the Messiah.

Since the stamina lie along the centers of the petals, and since the center of the inner petals is actually a rib, there is the suggestion that the stamina relate to masculinity. This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that on top of each stamen there is located an anther (dark brown in the photo) which is encrusted with pollen--the male seed of the flower. The Messiah is referred to as seed numerous times in the Bible. The first such occurrence is Genesis 3:15, God's promise to Eve. The suggestion is thus very strong that this figure relates to the Son of Man, the hope and life of all mankind: even as the pollen is the hope and the life of the tulip.

Since the six stamina are aligned opposite each other, they cross at the bottom of the flower. The center of the petals also cross there; each outer petal being joined to the rib of the opposing inner petal. This tells of the cross on which mankind is reconciled to the Father through the shed blood of the Son of Man; for the crucifixion of the Lamb of God made Christ both our high priest and the sole mediator between God and man. Likewise, if any man wants to be a disciple of the Messiah, he must daily take up his cross and, denying himself, follow Christ. We find in the flower, then, that at the cross, man and woman and seed all come together: but that is not all.

Just as the cross is a junction between God and man in human history, so, too, the cross in the flower is the junction between the human and Divine symbolism. On the cross, in the flower, one finds the pistil. The pistil houses the ovaries of the flower and so is indicative of femininity. In cross-section, the pistil looks just like the outline of the flower, namely, a triangle with bulging sides. As it is located on the cross and inside the form of the Son of Man, its solid, unified form reminds one of the holy Bride which the crucified Christ redeemed with his own blood.

Over the pistil, like a crown, reigns the three-pronged stigma. It is located at the focus of the flower and thus at its very heart; for the cup forming the flower is parabolic in shape and focuses sunlight onto the pistil, making it the warmest part of the flower. The stigma is the gateway through which the pollen must go if it is to reach the interior of the pistil and fertilize the flower. The stigma, then, is reminiscent of the Creator, the giver of all life, from whom the Son came even as the male seed of the flower came through the stigma of the parent flower, and through whom the Son came to give eternal life to those who, though dead in sin, yet believe on his name.

Even though the stigma rests over the female part of the flower, its three prongs are aligned along the centers of the male petals, thereby suggesting that maleness is its principle attribute. Furthermore, when the flower begins to wilt and die, the stigma bleeds drops of nectar, thus emphasizing its oneness with the Son of God who bled and died on the cross. All in all, there is a strong suggestion that the stigma types the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost; the three-in-one.

So it is that the Gospel is evident in the tulip. Christ Jesus, though without sin (Hebrews 4:15), took upon himself the sin of mankind: and by dying on the cross he left our sin there, crucified. On the third day he arose from the dead and so became the firstborn of the resurrection, so that any who believe in him shall have eternal life (John 3:16). Such, then, is the provision which God has made for his Bride.

This pattern is not restricted to just the tulip. There are many flowers which have exactly the same parts and relationships. Many other things occurring in nature exhibit the same in one form or another. The form is not always faithfully reproduced, either. Thus one will find tulips with four outer petals instead of the usual three. Significantly, these are usually accompanied by a four-pronged stigma, emphasizing the masculinity of the stigma's form. Sometimes there are seven pistils and anthers. One should not be dismayed or disheartened by this: after all, only God is faithful and perfect and the tulip is neither divine nor was it created in the image of God. Even so, David's testimony stands.

—Gerardus D. Bouw
Cleveland, Ohio
December, 1990
Last modified on 26 July, 2000 by GDB