God’s Majesty Declared in Small Places

I sleepily walked into my first class of molecular genetics and found a comfortable seat in the back just in time to hear my professor begin his overview of the class.  He started by saying: “Suppose I go sit down with an architect asking him to design a state of the art auditorium.  I say to him, ‘I want all the details included, from every last roof truss placement, to every last acoustic paneling angle, down to the spacing’s between the floor boards.  I want all the information to build in just one set of blue-prints.’”

“‘Now, what I also want is to turn this blue print one-degree to the right and see the plan for a state of the art natatorium incorporated into the page.  I will need all the information to build this as well, including plumbing lines from the bathrooms, wiring for all the lighting, and the topography of the land so that we can landscape the entry way.’”

“’Next, I want to be able to crumple up the blue print, unfold it in a different way, and see the plans to build a brand new state of the art gymnasium.  I will need every last electrical wall socket placement, fire alarm sprinkler, rain drainage spout, and the location of each urinal cake.’”

“Now suppose we ask him to do this folding and unfolding over 200 more times with different buildings.  Only then would those ‘blue prints’ compare to the human genome.”

I am pretty sure my mouth fell open and a little saliva may have dropped onto the desk.  This professor introduced the complex topic of the human genome in a way that shouted the majesty of God.  In fact, there is no possible way to present such an awe-inspiring structure without seeing God’s majesty, and this same law holds true in all areas of science, especially human biology and medicine.

When asked about the interplay between his faith and science, the current director of the National Institute of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, who at the time was the director of the Human Genome Project responded, “Well, as a geneticist, I’m in the situation, particularly with this revolution that’s going on in genetics, of observing new things all the time. Running the genome project, hardly a week goes by where some gene isn’t discovered that plays a critical role in understanding a disease that had been completely obscure until now. That is a remarkable experience, particularly if you have the chance to be part of the actual moment of discovery, which I have had on a few occasions. For me, as a person of faith, that moment of discovery has an additional dimension. It’s appreciating something, realizing something, knowing something that up until then no human had known – but God knew it. And there is an intricacy and an elegance in the nature of biology, particularly when it comes to the information carrying capacity of DNA, which is rather awesome. And so, in a way, perhaps, those moments of discovery also became moments of worship, moments of appreciation, of the incredible intricacies and beauty of biology, of the world, of life. And, therefore, an appreciation of God as the creator.”

The words of this forty some-odd year career long scientist who has been walking with God for about thirty of those years holds much more weight than my own, but as an aspiring physician God has given me the opportunity to see these truths first hand.  Working for the Center for Genomic Research at Wright State University as a research assistant I had the privilege to run experiments focused on understanding gene regulation in cancer cases. The expression of the human ‘blue-prints’ is regulated at so many levels it fascinates the mind.  It is regulated by the folding of the genome, by the proteins it is wrapped around, by multiple regulatory transcription binding sites attached to each gene, by hormone levels, by consequent gene packaging and amplification, by modification after transcription, by degradation, by multiple methods at the translational level, by editing, repression, and activation of all proteins involved including the product, by non-coding regions, and by complex feedback mechanisms.  I understand I probably just got to detailed for most people, but the number of different classes of regulation (and this was not an exhaustive list) along with dozens of different types within some of these classes leaves one thinking huge thoughts of the human genome’s design.

The take away message is that the human genome contains over 25,000 genes (some producing large numbers of different proteins through splicing) all coming together to lay out the structure and composition of over 200 different types of cells (including the spacing and interaction between them), and for these plans to ever be built dozens of different types of regulation is required.  This knowledge should invoke nothing more than worship from the depths of our hearts toward a majestic, awe-inspiring God.

As David wrote in Psalm 139 while contemplating the vastness of his creator he could not help but meditate on the intricacies of himself as a creation.

“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”

My prayer:

Father, your ways are inscrutable, and your creation is majestic.  The intricate detail and enormous power of such a small microscopic collection of molecules blows me away.  The human genome only scratches the surface of the overall grandeur of your creation.  I confess Lord, that I do not always have huge thoughts of you.  Only by your power and authority can my heart praise you as it ought.  Help me to see your majesty in every last breath you give to me.  Please keep me from pride, as knowledge often feeds, and by your grace persevere me in declaring your majesty to a dark and hopeless world.

Amen.

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