Sunday, July 7, 2013

DNA and Psalm 139

One of the most moving passages in Scripture speaks of God’s omniscience with respect to the unborn and his knowledge of temporal events even before they actually occur. Psalm 139:16 proclaims, “Your eyes saw my unformed body…” God sees us just before our birth and even before the pre-born child acquires its identifiable form in the early days of pregnancy.

No matter how readers of Psalm 139 interpret its meaning, we propose the omniscient Creator is the author of the meticulously detailed DNA code since all codes are the product of a mind. Its coded information is responsible for the production of every physical bodily trait of each human being alive. God-consciousness, the Imago Dei, was also endowed to the first humans, passed on to the present generation, and bestowed to all future generations of humanity.

At the moment of conception one egg from the mother and one sperm cell from the father each contributes 23 chromosomes, 46 in total, with DNA tightly coiled around structures of protein. In the fertilized egg there are 3.2 billion base pairs of coded information providing the genetic framework for the new human. The code is really a quaternary code consisting of just four elements. When shuffled and duplicated the four code elements designate the formation of virtually limitless combinations of many tens of thousands of proteins. It is not surprising that every human being (except identical twins) is unique. Protein building blocks vary from one person to another.

How does a simple four-element code result in the construction of certain specific proteins when a new human being develops in the womb?  Biology books do not answer this question. In our 21st century knowledge, our finest biology texts explain what happens. We do not, however, know how this happens. The detailed construction process occurring prior to birth, as a child matures toward adulthood, and even damage repair as the body passes its prime, is a secret known to God. We observe it and experience awe at the magnificence of the process.

There is some danger in becoming too complex in our explanation. We risk losing the simple worshipful exultation of the psalmist. We may appreciate the impact of the simple statement, “Your eyes saw my unformed body…” without becoming overly arcane. Psalm 139 simply cries out for our ability to worship the God of Creation as we contemplate one of the most astonishing examples of miraculous creation--the development of a new and unique human being from a single cell contributed by each parent.

The uniting of egg and sperm forms the simple zygote, the earliest stage of embryonic development. At this moment the embryo possesses full personhood.  100% of its personhood potential has been established. Any attempt to thwart the development of the embryo at this stage or later is an act of destroying a life gifted by God. The horror of our society’s legal embrace of abortion is a surpassing tragedy.

The personal worship inspired by Psalm 139 in its entirety is recaptured each time we read it. Verses 12-16 expand on the phrase we have quoted. On a personal level, these truths were reinforced as my wife and I recently viewed 3-D ultrasound images of our fourth grandchild and second grandson. Verses 13-15 leaped out: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place…” (NIV)