The Miracle and Meaning of DNA March 17 2017

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

The molecular structure of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) was identified in 1953, a fairly recent discovery for what we now know to be the fundamental aspect of the human genetic code.

DNA is now routinely used in criminal investigations and prosecutions. Its use was highly publicized during the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995. It is now so commonplace, that it is just an incidental detail in crime and investigative TV shows. Most recently, DNA testing has been commercialized for the general public as a way to trace our ancestry, or to find out if we may have a propensity toward certain health problems in the future. All you have to do is mail these companies a saliva sample, and pay around $100.

The Miracle of DNA

This blog explores the implications of DNA testing for us in society, as believers.  But before we talk about the meaning of it all, let’s cover a little background.  DNA occurs as chromosomes in a cell, which make up its “genome.”  The human genome has approximately 3 billion base pairs of DNA arranged into 46 chromosomes (a double helix of 23 chromosomes each).  The information carried by DNA defines our genetic makeup – facial features, whether we will be tall or short, color of our eyes, hair, and skin, and all our other physical traits.  These are the features that allow us to recognize family members, friends, celebrities, political figures, and the clerk at the grocery store.  Even voices have inherited signatures, making it sometimes difficult to tell the difference between father, son, and brothers on the other end of a phone call. It is astonishing that, with over 7 billion people now living on earth, each one can still be recognized as a unique individual.  

As scientists discover more and more of how the human body works, some Christians might be tempted to wonder about how and even whether creation actually took place.  But these discoveries are actually tremendous confirmations of creation. Human life is so amazingly intricate and complex, and so well designed, that it is difficult to imagine how it could not have been created by an outside hand.  Science is giving us a window into how God put us together, and we are seeing some incredible things. DNA is part of God's human design. Knowing more about it should cause us to be more amazed at how He designed us in the first place.

The Meaning of DNA and Its Applications

In this blog and the next, we’ll be exploring some of the implications of DNA and how we should be thinking about it as believers, based on the Scriptures.  This includes biblical truths as they pertain to health, ancestry, and stewardship.  We’ll talk about health in this blog and finish the other two next time.  In each case we’ll see where our hope should be placed.

In terms of health, DNA testing can yield predictors of medical conditions. This could turn out to be very useful in cases where precautions can be taken to minimize the impact of the condition. But it could also be a temptation for someone to worry and fear for their future, or even try to control the situation. Genetic “foreknowledge” can even raise concerns where concerns are not warranted.  For example, one Australian newsletter on genetic ethics states:

“An individual is much more than the sum of their genes: the individual’s environment can modify the expression of genetic messages to the body and many health factors are not genetic. The discovery of a variation in a particular gene may provide some information about the nature of the condition that the person has, will develop, or for which they may be at increased risk, but can rarely predict the severity of the condition or the age at which symptoms will first onset.”

So as Christians, how should we be thinking of genetic testing and diagnosis as they become more commonplace?  First, we need to recognize that God is the sovereign creator. He does not make mistakes. Rather, He creates with a purpose in mind. Psalm 139 says that God has woven us skillfully, and He knows every part of us. What some people call defects or disadvantages are not a surprise to the Lord.

Knowledge of a potential genetic abnormality could also be a temptation for someone to worry and fear for their future. Yet we know that God is sovereign. There is nothing that is beyond His knowledge and control. Verse 16 of Psalm 139 says that He knows and has ordained all of our days.

When the Psalmist says in Chapter 119, verse 165 “Those who love Thy law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble,”  God didn’t add “except when you inherited a genetic flaw.” Life could be very challenging physically, but spiritually speaking, God’s peace and victory is available to all, regardless of genetic makeup. We have great hope because any of us, despite the physical circumstances, can love God’s law and strive to live by it.

Lastly, God can use our physical weaknesses for His glory and our growth. There are many examples in the Scriptures of how God used the sick and infirm. In John 9, people asked Jesus why a man would be born blind. He answered that it was so that God's work could be displayed. The purpose of that man's blindness was for others to know the power of God. You can also look up John 11:4 and Acts 3:16.

The apostle Paul spoke of an area of weakness – a “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12:7.  We don’t know exactly what his thorn in the flesh was. It could have been a health issue or any number of circumstances.  In spite of it, he was able to hear the Lord say “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Paul went on to state “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 

The temptation in today’s world with all the diagnostics available is to let the diagnosis either control our life (especially our thought life) or give us excuses for not going God’s way.  Paul saw his situation as an opportunity to demonstrate the power of Christ. 

Should we use modern medicine for greater knowledge and treatment? Absolutely. If we are sick, we should do what we can to get better. Paul told Timothy to take some wine for his stomach. Luke himself was a doctor. Jesus never chastised anyone for asking or praying for healing.

The point is this. We can often try to alleviate any discomfort and assuage all pain, to the point of obsession. Yet these physical trials and limitations can be the very things God uses to reveal His character and work. We have an opportunity to display God's power in our weakness, and this is not something to be feared. Rather, we should see the potential for God's glory to be shown in our weakness.  This would not be demonstrated necessarily by healing of the body but by exhibiting the supernatural peace that only God can give.

Conversely, if we find in a DNA test an absence of certain genetic indicators, we can gain a false sense of security as to our health or longevity.  We forget the reminder in James 4:14 that “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

Paul knew something about physical trials, yet he was able to write in Romans 8:37-38: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

That’s a pretty comprehensive list.  The reminder for us is that we can live in spiritual victory even if we are physically weakened, nor should we allow a possible future condition to control us.  This is supernatural hope, even if a doctor finds what is perceived as a looming health challenge buried in our DNA.

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Steve Smith