Mr. Minderhoud is a teacher at Covenant Christian High School and member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan
“Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God.”
Throughout the Scriptures, God’s people are instructed to consider God’s mighty acts and wondrous works and to praise Him for them. This includes the creation, for in the creation, God teaches us truths about Himself and His relationship with us. That is what the Belgic Confession, Article 2, means when it says that the creation is a most elegant book that leads us to contemplate the invisible things of God. We are wise to study this elegant book in the light of Scripture to see what God has to say to us. We learn that God is worthy of praise and that we are nothing compared to Him. “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! …When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Ps. 8:1, 3, 4). Let us now consider the wondrous work of God in the smallest known fundamental particles of nature, and what they reveal to us about our covenant God.
Already in grade school, children learn that all matter is composed of tiny particles called atoms. Most students marvel at many of the intricate details of the atom, but two properties always stand out—the tiny size of the atom and the profound order that exists within its smallness.
Only in recent history has man been able to understand and observe the beauty, order, and intricacy of the creation as seen in these microscopic particles. God, in His providence, led various scientists in the early 1800s to perform experiments that demonstrated that “atoms” existed. At that time John Dalton proposed that all substances are made up of small, dense, indestructible particles that he called “atoms,” and that these atoms would join together with other atoms to make molecules. In the last decade of the nineteenth century it was confirmed that these atoms were actually made of smaller particles yet. Positively charged particles (protons), negatively charged particles (electrons), and neutrally charged particles (neutrons) were discovered within it. Further research also indicated a closer approximation of the size of the atom. The atom is so small that one ounce of water contains 3 x 1024 atoms. Though it is impossible to imagine how large this number is, we might have a small feeling for the magnitude of it if we would consider that 3 x 1024 pennies would cover the surface of the earth up to a quarter mile in pennies. We marvel at the intricate details within God’s creation. Every substance in the creation is composed of these tiny little substances!
In the early twentieth century, Ernest Rutherford discovered that the atom is not a solid sphere of material (dense) as Dalton had suggested but that the atom was almost completely empty space. Only a very small center of mass (the nucleus—containing the protons and neutrons) was dense and the rest of the atom was empty space, with the exception of a few electrons swarming around the nucleus. In fact the atom has relatively so much empty space that one can have a better understanding of this if one imagines the nucleus of a hydrogen atom to be the size of a penny and the atom’s electron to be the size of a pinhead. Between that penny-sized nucleus and the pinhead electron would be a vast 1¼ mile of empty space! However, within the creation, matter is composed of trillions upon trillions of such atoms, so that the atoms overlap and interact in such a way that those empty spaces are not noticeable to us in our day-to-day lives when we interact with matter.
Scientists continue to delve into questions about this tiny part of creation. How are the electrons distributed around the nucleus? What about the distribution of the protons and neutrons in the nucleus—is there an order to these particles and to their movements? Originally it was believed that the electrons move around the nucleus much like the random movement of bees around a beehive. However, this random movement theory was not accepted since it would result in chaos—in all atoms self-destructing because of the attraction between the positive nucleus and the negative electrons. It was Neils Bohr, in 1913, who proposed the “planetary model” of the atom, suggesting that the electrons were distributed around the nucleus in concentric circular orbits, much like the planets move around the sun in somewhat circular concentric orbits. These orbits would keep the electrons from “colliding” with the nucleus, just as, in God’s providence, the “circular” orbits of the planets keep them from crashing into the sun. Furthermore, Bohr suggested that there is an order in how those electrons are distributed. The smallest orbit, closest to the nucleus, can “hold” only two electrons. The next orbit can hold a maximum of 8 electrons, the third, a maximum of 18 electrons, and the fourth, a maximum of 32 electrons. What an amazing order is observed in the miniscule atom!
Further research has shown a more complicated view of the position of the electrons—describing a deeper level of order. The electrons actually are further distributed, within the orbit they are in, into smaller “orbits.” It is in the study of these “sub-orbitals” that one finds an amazing order and structure in the creation. It is in an understanding of the distribution of the electrons in these “sub-orbitals” that many of the chemical and physical properties of matter, such as magnetism or chemical reactivity, begin to be understandable. Furthermore, recent research indicates that not only are the electrons outside of the nucleus found in very orderly arrangements, but the protons and neutrons in the nucleus are also found in orderly arrangements similar to the “orbits” of the electrons. And to make things just a little more complicated yet, scientists now believe that the protons, neutrons, and electrons are actually made up of even smaller fundamental particles, which they have named quarks. Related to this research, scientists now know that the atom is not indestructible, but that it can be split into these tinier particles emitting tremendous amounts of energy in the process—enough energy to fuel entire cities with electricity, or to devastate entire cities with small nuclear warheads. In all of this we stand in amazement of the wondrous works of God. How tiny and how orderly is the atom! God spoke and it was so (Ps. 145:8). “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).
The wondrous work of God in creating and maintaining the atom teaches us many important things about God and ourselves. We humbly recognize that we as God’s people are loved by the very God who has made all these things. We, as finite creatures in the organism of the human race, which has for hundreds of years struggled to come to an understanding of the fundamental particles of the creation, only scratch the surface of the infinite beauty and order within the atom and within the rest of the creation. And yet, it is we, who are so insignificant in and of ourselves, who have been called to be His covenant children. We are loved by the Almighty God, who in a word created it all. How amazing that such a God is mindful of such weak creatures as ourselves and makes covenant friendship with us!
Our humble state is further emphasized when we recognize that the entire creation is formed by an all-wise God as a “house” for His covenant friends. This house is of glorious detail, beauty, and unity, as seen in the atom. In His wisdom God created the atom as He did that the minute details and the inexpressible order bring glory to His name alone. In His wisdom, His name is further glorified since the atom itself is created in all of its intricacy to serve man, so that man can serve and glorify his God. How amazing and how humbling to realize that the very atoms all around us, with all their movements and structures, are created, maintained, and directed by the word of God’s power for our sake. This is humbling!
As we learn more about the atom, we are reminded of our kingly office. God created man as the pinnacle of creation, in the office of prophet, priest, and king. As king, man is to rule and have dominion over the creation and, thus, is given the ability and authority to unfold the power in the creation. This too is truly humbling to God’s people. Who are we, that God should consider us and give us such honor? What a great blessing to God’s people to be privileged to study and use the creation! And with that comes the awesome responsibility to use the creation properly, especially as we uncover the manifold uses of the atom. May we enjoy the riches ofthe creation for the benefit of the church and the praise and glory of God’s name.
The wicked too are called to have kingship over the creation. However, they use their kingship for the sake of their father the devil, using the powers in the creation for their own sinful desires. The wicked, in his pride, now says that to control the atom is to control his own destiny, with no need for God. They try to rid the earth of the name of God. What pride man has to think to remove God from His creation—remove Him whose very name is written within and throughout each and every particle in the creation! Truly we see all around us men who “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator” (Rom. 1:22, 25). As the mysteries of the atom are unfolded and its countless uses discovered, may we remember the cause for which the Lord has allowed such development by man to take place—that the church may grow and develop and stand in thankful wonder at the works and good gifts of her God, praising Him all the day long, and that the world’s cup of iniquity may be filled as they stand in thankless, willful ignorance, deliberately turning God’s truth into the lie for the ease and praise of man. All of this instills in us a great fear of God—a humble awareness of God’s awesome work and power in the creation and our responsibility to Him. May God’s name be praised by us in our use of His creation!
The atom, when seen in the light of Scripture, gives us a good opportunity to take notice of God’s power as manifested in His providential care. We confess that God “upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q.A. 27). This includes these tiny atoms. They too are directed and upheld each moment of each day in their particular places by that powerful word of God. In Q. 28 of the Catechism we ask, “What advantage is it to us to know that God has created and by His providence doth still uphold all things?” The comforting answer of the catechism is that we are to be patient in times of adversity, thankful in times of prosperity, and in all things place our firm trust in our faithful God, our Father, knowing that nothing can separate us from His love because all creatures cannot so much as move without His will. When we consider the infinitely tiny atom and its miniscule parts that move in such an orderly fashion, for a specific, God-ordained purpose, and are governed each moment of each day by the word of God’s power, how can we doubt God’s care over us, His people in Christ, and that He will provide us with all we need for both body and soul! When we walk about in God’s creation each day and consider the wondrous works of God, we boldly continue our pilgrimage knowing that God directs all things for our spiritual welfare.
All thy works shall praise thee. All thy works—even the tiny, orderly, often-forgotten atoms. The infinite, incomprehensible, perfectly wise, all-powerful God of the covenant is clearly seen by the child of God in such a study. May we be given the grace to look into the creation through the spectacles of Scripture and see the beauty of our God. May we, both as young people and adults, seek to read and to study and to delve into the things of the creation and learn of its beauty and intricacy, for it bears the mark of its Maker. May our study be humbling as we stand amazed at how insignificant we are, and how great God is. May God be praised by us as we wait for Christ, who shall return to take us to glory and who shall even deliver the very creation from the bondage of corruption. He shall melt the very elements that we have considered today and create a new heavens and a new earth. “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches” (Ps. 104:24).