Mr. Minderhoud is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
The creation abounds with “cycles.” Spring, summer, fall, and winter arrive consistently at their appointed times without interruption. The moon has its waxing and waning crescents, and the stars appear in the sky in their characteristic formations in a regular and repeatable fashion. Lake and ocean waters evaporate, form clouds, then fall to the earth in some form of precipitation, and eventually trickle their way back to the lakes and oceans. A sequence of hormones rushes through the body of a woman each month, preparing her body for the bringing forth of covenant seed.
Whether it be in the heavens or on the earth, God made and governs numerous cycles by which He provides us with much of what we need in this life. These cycles do not “run on their own,” as the deist would maintain, but are intricately governed and upheld by our heavenly Father.
These “cycles” are an occasion for our humbling. They are a daily reminder to us of our awesome and unchanging God and thus a reminder of our own frailty and utter dependence on Him. Our willing and able Father unfailingly provides us with all we need in this life, both in body and in soul. Of this we are confident, for He is the sovereign, unchanging God, who controls all things for His glory and for the salvation of His people.
The Nature of Cycles
Solomon put his finger on the essence of cycles when, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). Cycles, by their very nature, are repetitious. This repetitive nature is something that speaks volumes about the vanity of life in this world apart from God—which we, the Lord willing, hope to discuss in a future article. However, this repetitious nature of cycles gives us an opportunity to see that there is a certain order and stability to the creation. Because God does not change, He sovereignly rules in the creation in an orderly manner. We anticipate seasons, weather patterns, and a renewal of resources. These things come to pass because God sees fit to provide us what we need by way of orderly cycles. They are constant reminders to us that our faithful God does not change, or fail to accomplish what He promises to us.
It is worth noting from the outset that the world in which we live, including the cycles with which we interact in our daily lives, is different from what existed prior to the Fall and prior to the Flood (II Pet. 3). Nonetheless, they are ordained and directly established by God as part of His wise design and eternal counsel. Before the Flood there was no rain as we understand it today, but the earth was watered by a mist from the earth (Gen. 2:5-6). Now the Lord “calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth” (Amos 9:6), and “He maketh small the drops of water; they pour down rain according to the vapour thereof: which the clouds do drop and distil upon man abundantly” (Job 36:27-28). After the Flood, God established the seasons as we know them today when he promised Noah that, “while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22). And thus, though the cycles may be different from what existed before the Flood, nevertheless we know they are just as assuredly sovereignly governed by the almighty word of God’s power. As we read inJob 37, these many creation ordinances “do whatsoever He commandeth them upon the face of the world in the earth.”
God’s Wise Design
Though the Creator instituted many cycles within the creation, time and space limit us to a detailed discussion of just one—the hydrologic or water cycle—in order to demonstrate vividly God’s wise design. All creatures in the creation depend, and have depended for thousands of years, upon a constant supply of fresh water in order to live. The obvious question is, “From where do today’s billions of humans, not to mention all the other creatures— animals and plants alike—get fresh water each day?” In God’s infinite wisdom, He formed a water cycle, which He constantly governs and upholds by the word of His power.
God’s wise design in the creation of a water cycle begins and ends in the endless storehouse of water found in the oceans, lakes, and polar ice caps. Scientists calculate that there are some 330 million cubic miles of global water— enough water to cover the entire USA to a depth of 80 miles. However, 97% of this global water is non-drinkable saltwater. And, surprising to many, of the remaining 3% that is drinkable fresh-water, two-thirds of it is frozen in the polar ice caps. The majority of the remaining freshwater is found below the surface of the Earth in groundwater supplies.¹ Despite the small percentage of global water that is in usable freshwater form, there is still a great abundance to serve all the creatures of God’s creation.
From this storehouse of oceans, lakes, and ice caps, water evaporates. At the surface of all bodies of water, the water molecules are not as tightly held to neighboring water molecules as they are below the surface. In addition, these surface- layer water molecules obtain energy from the sun in order to escape from their liquid water-molecule neighbors. Consequently, they evaporate, and enter the atmosphere as gaseous water. If the water evaporates from a salt-laden body of water, the water escapes into the atmosphere, leaving the salt behind. Thus, the wisdom of God is displayed in the very first stage of the water cycle. God, using the means of evaporation, causes the “contaminant particles” to be left behind, purifying the water.
These vaporized water molecules join with all the other molecules in the sky and form our atmosphere. Mixed in with the carbon dioxide gas, oxygen gas, and nitrogen gas molecules, the water vapor forms an important component of the atmosphere. It is one of the components that “trap” the heat radiated from the surface of the earth. Earth is habitable, in part, because of the heat that is trapped inside our atmosphere. Secondly, water vapor collects in the atmosphere, congregating into clouds, to protect the earth from too much solar radiation. Interestingly, clouds both “trap” necessary heat and also keep the earth cool by blocking some intense solar radiation and reflecting it back into space.
Eventually, the water vapor in the clouds condenses and falls to the earth as some form of precipitation. The conditions that cause the water vapor to condense (turn from vapor form to liquid form) vary. Changes in atmospheric pressure and/or in atmospheric temperature can initiate the change in state from vapor to liquid. Under cooler temperatures, for example, the water-vapor molecules slow their movements and congregate closer together. When the water-vapor molecules cool, they condense into liquid form, becoming denser than the atmosphere. Therefore, they fall to the earth as some form of precipitation. Scientists calculate that a storm that drops one inch of rain on a one square mile plot of land, dropped some seventeen million gallons of water. Thus, in the wisdom of God, water returns to the earth in rich abundance in order to supply all the creatures with refreshing water. Although it is true that rain does not fall in equal amounts everywhere on the earth, nevertheless, the creation as an organic whole is well supplied with bountiful freshwater.
Some of this water runs off the top of the soil and trickles across the earth into various streams and water reserves—eventually leading back to the great water storehouses of lakes and oceans. Much of the precipitation infiltrates the soil and is either used by plant life for its nourishment or trickles down into underground aquifers. From these aquifers (and from the freshwater lakes) man obtains his life-supplying water. The water in these freshwater aquifers is crystal clean—ready for human consumption. As the water seeps through the soil and across rocks and pebbles the water is cleaned by pathogen-devouring bacteria and other microscopic organisms. What a simple yet unfathomable method of cleaning our water supply! In some neighborhoods where each home has its own well and septic and drainage field, this is most evidently displayed. Dirty waste water (toilet, shower, dish, and laundry water) eventually filters through the drainage field—a layering of rock and gravel and soil—until it finds its way into the underground water supply, which later is drawn up for cleaning and drinking needs. Water that is consumed by humans or animals and plants will either return to the atmosphere directly out of the creature’s “skin” (transpiration in plants; perspiration in animals and humans) or it will be discharged in another form, eventually working its way back into the cycle. Slowly the evaporated water from the water storehouses is returned to the storehouse again, after having been used in many places and ways along the journey. The cycle is complete and the creatures have their life-supporting water.
It is amazing how the Lord provides for His creation and the creatures in it in such a wise and orderly fashion. The mystery and wonder of it all is found alone in the hand of an almighty, sovereign, and most-wise God. And so it is with all the cycles in the creation.
God’s Faithful Provisions
The continuous nature of the cycles, whether water cycle or otherwise, certainly teaches us that God sees fit continually to sustain life within this creation by systematically providing us with the things necessary for life in this world. Each day, when according to the cycle of the movement of the planets the sun rises in the east, warming and enlightening the earth, and later sets in the west to give us darkness for our needed sleep and rest, we must with confidence and thanksgiving confess that God has again supplied us with an abundance of earthly gifts in order that we might live and serve Him. When we see the leaves fall from the trees in autumn, making a bed of rich nutrients to be taken up by the earth to be used by trees and other plants alike for their nourishment and production of new leaves in the spring, we see the wisdom of our God to govern and direct these cycles so that all creatures in His creation are provided for in order that they may serve Him.
By means of cycles, plants produce food in such abundance that, with proper administration and stewardship, all the people of the earth can eat plentifully. With the means of hormonal cycles in the body, we grow tired when it is dark and sleep a number of hours so that our bodies are refreshed and ready to labor with renewed vigor the next morning.
Everywhere we turn we see cycles that are governed by the powerful hand of God so that we have all that we need for our physical existence. Our Heidelberg Catechism directs our attention to what our attitude should be when we see that God grants us our physical needs.
Which is the fourth petition? Give us this day our daily bread; that is, be pleased to provide us with all things necessary for the body, that we may thereby acknowledge Thee to be the only fountain of all good, and that neither our care nor industry, nor even Thy gifts, can profit us without Thy blessing; and therefore that we may withdraw our trust from all creatures and place it alone in Thee(my emphasis) (Q&A 125).
As the Lord abundantly provides for all our physical needs in an orderly and perfectly-timed fashion, so also does He provide all we need spiritually. This is most certainly our experience. We have faithfully been given spiritual food and living water through the preaching of the gospel and through the instruction in the catechism room. We are instructed concerning our life in this world by godly parents in the home. We further grow in our knowledge of our God and His works in history and in the creation by faithful instruction in our good Christian schools. In the study of God’s Word in our homes and in our Bible societies we are nourished and built up in the faith. All of this, God is pleased to provide us— often in the way of continued generations. Even in the endless cycle of life and death we see God’s faithful provision. Although one generation dies, God in His faithfulness raises up another generation. How grateful we are for His covenant faithfulness!
Our Unchanging Covenant God
The constantly governed cycles give us great encouragement in an ever-changing world. When the economy goes sour, when our health declines, or when friends and family forsake us, the ever-repeating cycles draw our attention to our unchanging God, who alone is in control. He teaches us to wait on Him. Sometimes the spring may seem long in coming, but it will certainly come. In the midst of our difficult ways, we see the sun rise in the morning and we arise and pray, “All is well!” His mercies are new each morning. When our day has been extremely trying and we see the sun set again on the western horizon, our minds are drawn to the unchanging God who governs these cycles. We then bring our petitions to our faithful, unchanging Father, and confess, “All is well!” Whenever we see a creation cycle—whether it be the hydrologic cycle, the cycles of the planets and stars, or the bodily cycles—we are comforted.
Our comfort arises from the fact that our God is in control. He who sovereignly rules all the cycles in the creation, also rules in our lives and over all things. And though all earthly pictures fall short, our comfort also arises from the fact that our Father in heaven does not change, as pictured to us in the seemingly unchanging earthly cycles. He reveals Himself as the unchanging God in Scripture particularly with regard to His covenant promises. InJeremiah 33:20 we read,
Thus saith the LORD; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne….
As we see God’s faithfulness to His ordinances of heaven and earth, we are reminded that God’s word is sure. His promises never fail, but certainly come to pass. Christ did come of the line of David as promised, does even now sit upon the throne of David as King of kings, and certainly isreturning to take His citizens to the new, heavenly Jerusalem. In fact, every time a cycle is completed, we are reminded that Christ comes!
Now learn a parable of the fig tree: When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors,
We are a privileged people to have been given eyes to see the faithfulness of our God in the cycles within the creation and not a hopeless vanity. Through the means of various cycles we are privileged to receive the good gifts of this creation from our faithful Father in love, and we are assured that His word never fails and that surely our Lord and Savior is coming at the fullness of time. God is accomplishing His purpose, even using the cycles as His servants, bringing the return of Christ, the glorification of His chosen people, and ultimately the glory of His name. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11).
¹ Statistics and information found at the US Geological Survey Website:http://www.usgs.gov/