Mr. Minderhoud is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
God has ordained that life on this earth requires many creatures or substances working together—multitudes of parts that must be in a balanced relationship one with the other. This harmony is necessary because of the organic interdependence of all living things. It is a harmony and beauty that bears the mark of its Creator—a Creator who is the one only simple Being, who is His attributes, full of harmony, beauty, and life within the triune Being. The interrelatedness of the creation is seen throughout the creation in creatures great and small. For example, in any particular food web, the entire ecosystem hangs together. When one creature is damaged or greatly diminished in a particular food web, all the creatures that depend in one way or another on that creature are impacted. In physics we note that objects in the creation are stable (or they move) because of the balance (or imbalance) of forces that are applied to them. Whether we study biology or physics, or anything in between, we see God working the same orderly way throughout the creation, keeping all things in proper balance.
When someone or something disrupts that balance, consequences are sure to follow. A simple evidence of this was recently observed in Yellowstone National Park.¹ Some complained of the many wolves and their effect on livestock of the surrounding farmers. The wolves were removed, but only with the consequence of an increase in deer population and a corresponding decrease in particular sapling and flower populations that were devoured by the deer. Returning the wolves brought a balance in the food web again. It is a wonder to see the underlying harmony and interdependence among the creatures effecting a delicate balance for life. It is even more amazing to recognize that this is God’s counsel, even down to the minutest workings of creation. Spectacular examples of this abound in the human body, to which we now turn our attention.
Homeostasis: Maintaining a Balance
God’s government of the human body affords one of the best examples of the delicate balances that exist in the creation. Within the human body many systems work together organically to maintain a balance of internal conditions in order to keep the body working properly and to sustain life. Too much or too little of a particular substance can seriously harm the body. A proper pH level in the blood, a proper temperature in the body, a proper water level in the cells, and a proper blood pressure must be maintained in the human body at all times or serious disease, or perhaps even death, is imminent. God has ordained a marvelous system of checks and balances in the body to ensure that the levels of all substances are kept in line, with only a slight margin of fluctuation permitted. This process— the process of maintaining a specific internal environment—is called homeostasis.
Homeostasis is a term man has assigned to the amazing work of God in the body by which He maintains a precise balance among the myriad of chemicals and processes. Every body system, from the circulatory system (maintains blood pressure levels) to the muscular and integumentary (skin) system (maintains body temperature) has homeostasis as one of its basic functions and goals. Each system maintains a balance not only within itself, but also among the other systems, for the good of the body as a whole.
The nervous system and endocrine (hormone) system have the most direct impact on homeostasis within the body since they actively control the other systems. In the past we have considered the nervous system and how it controls the other systems by use of electrical impulses.² In a previous article we noticed how the endocrine system exercised control over many body functions by maintaining a particular level of specific hormones. Not only does God govern and control the many movements of substances within the body, but He does so in a mysterious way, maintaining an exact relationship between them. The endocrine system’s maintenance of homeostatic levels with its many hormones is exquisitely beautiful. Time and space prevent us from considering in detail all the many hormones that must exist in a precise balance for the body’s existence, but we are well aware that a unique balance must be maintained.
Unless something is afflicting us we hardly give a thought to this amazing harmony effected in our bodies every moment of the day by the providential hand of our Creator. For example, after traversing multi-time zone distances we experience “jet-lag,” as our bodies continue to secrete melatonin hormone at its “normal” time, keeping us wide awake when it is dark and our native colleagues are all asleep. Or one may have experienced too much growth hormone prior to puberty and developed into a “giant,” while another may have experienced too little of the same hormone during the same developmental time period and developed “dwarf” characteristics. Or perhaps a pregnant mother has had too little progesterone at a particular time of pregnancy, leading to the premature breaking of the bond between the developing infant and the placenta— resulting in a miscarriage. We are all too well aware that many disorders and biological complications arise because of an imbalance in hormonal levels.
This delicate balance of hormones governed by the endocrine system displays the mighty sovereign hand of God. The sovereign God constantly controls in each human the delicate balance of hormones that He uses to accomplish His good purpose in each of us throughout our lives. God’s government of these tiny creatures reminds us again that He does not forsake any part of His creation but “rules and governs [it] according to His holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without His appointment” (Belgic Confession, Art. 13). This profound truth humbles us! We bow in humility before the sovereign and all-wise God, finding comfort in knowing we are always in His hand.
Diabetes: An example of Homeostatic Imbalance
Perhaps the best way to see God’s work of maintaining the proper balance needed in the human body is to consider a disorder that is the result of a disruption of this balance and the effects that it has on the body. “In 2006, according to the World Health Organization, at least 171 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes…. In 2005 there [were] about 20.8 million people with diabetes in the United States alone.”³ Diabetes mellitus is found in three forms—juvenile-onset diabetes (Type 1), adult-onset diabetes (Type 2), and gestational diabetes, occurring during pregnancy (Type 3), which will not be discussed at this time. Juvenile-onset diabetes, usually diagnosed before the age of 20, is the most serious of the three types, but is the least common, accounting for approximately 10% of all the cases. Adult-onset diabetes is the most prevalent form of diabetes mellitus, afflicting generally those over the age of 40. However, it is being diagnosed in younger and younger people who are obese. Type 2 diabetes has been the focus of news media in recent years, as it is becoming apparent that North Americans are generally overweight and higher candidates to develop Type 2 diabetes.
The endocrine system maintains a delicate balance of sugar levels in the blood. Sugar is needed by all cells of the body for their basic source of energy. Body cells, however, need to be “instructed” or “commanded” to take the sugar inside the cell. In the wisdom of God, cells have receptor molecules (like key locks on a door) on their surface that can be commanded (unlocked) to receive the sugar as its fuel by hormone molecules (the keys to the lock). The hormone insulin is the key that unlocks human cells to allow the necessary fuel (sugar) to enter into the cell. It then can be burned, thereby fueling the cell for its functions. After one eats a meal, the food will be digested and the carbohydrates in the meal will be converted to a basic sugar form and will enter the bloodstream. The pancreas, responding to these higher sugar levels in the blood, secretes the insulin hormone molecules into the bloodstream. The insulin molecules make contact with the cells of the body and bind to the receptors on the walls of the cells, unlocking the cells so that the sugar can be taken into the cells. As sugar is taken in by the cells, the blood sugar levels drop, decreasing the need for insulin hormone molecules to be present in the blood to “unlock” the cells. The pancreas responds accordingly, by reducing insulin secretions. Thus, homeostasis is maintained. By a complex and intricate work, the blood-sugar levels are kept at a constant level.
In the case of juvenile-onset diabetes (Type 1), the body does not produce sufficient insulin. It is believed that the cells from the pancreas that produce insulin are destroyed “possibly by the attack of the body’s own immune system or by virus infection.”4 With no key to unlock the body’s cells, the cells do not take up the sugar as their fuel. The blood-sugar levels are high and can be detected with a blood test or with a urine test, which will show high sugar levels. Without treatment, a person with Type 1 diabetes will not metabolize the sugar in his diet, and consequently will not be able to get energized from his food. Without treatment, this afflicted person could eventually pass into a coma or die. The main form of treatment for Type 1 diabetes is insulin injections. Insulin has in the past been extracted from pigs and cows and injected into the diabetic daily. Today, much human insulin is produced from genetically engineered bacteria.
In the case of adult-onset diabetes (Type 2), the body produces plenty of insulin. The problem is not with a lack of insulin, but with the receptors on the cells. The problem seems to be that either the cells do not have enough receptors to detect the insulin, or the receptors are not working properly. Thus, the cells are not able to take in the necessary fuel for its use. It would be analogous either to having damaged locks that will not receive the key, or to not having any keyholes on the locks. “Interestingly, the number of insulin receptors [locks, JM] on cells can be changed by gaining or losing body weight; the more body fat a person carries, the fewer insulin receptors there will be on his or her cells. This explains why… weight reduction is such effective therapy.”5 Whereas in Type I diabetes there is no “key” (insulin), in Type 2 diabetes there is a “key” but a damaged “lock” (receptors). In either case the cell cannot be opened to receive necessary fuel. So, as with juvenile-onset diabetes, adult-onset diabetes is a disorder in which there are high sugar levels in the blood—sugar that cannot be taken into the cells that desperately need it.
Diabetes, whether Type 1 or Type 2, has many side effects related to the high sugar levels in the blood. Cataracts form in the eyes as excess sugar molecules pile up and form long chains that are deposited in the lens of the eye—clouding it. Sugar molecules also damage tiny blood vessels in the retina of the eye (diabetic retinopathy), by reducing the blood flow and oxygen supply to the retina—damaging its ability to receive stimuli—leading to blindness. In a similar way, the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys are damaged by high sugar levels, affecting its ability to filter the blood properly (diabetic nephropathy)—potentially leading to kidney failure. Research indicates that diabetics may develop accumulation of fatty deposits in blood vessels—reducing blood flow and increasing the potential for strokes and coronary heart disease—sooner and more severely than others. Also, because of reduced blood flow, diabetics experience a lack of circulation in their extremities and, in extreme cases, may suffer from gangrene, ulcers, and other infections. The afflictions related to diabetes are legion and greatly affect the lives of those who suffer from this disorder. Let us remember to pray for God’s people who suffer with various afflictions.
We ought to mention here in passing that disorders such as diabetes remind us again of the consequences of sin. The Fall of Adam, our head, has led to God’s curse upon the creation—including our bodies. Though our bodies are an amazing marvel of creation, we readily acknowledge that they have many weaknesses and frailties due to the curse. The creation groans and travails because of the burden of that curse, and so do we. When we consider the grievous effects diabetes has on the health and day-today routines of our loved ones, we are reminded of the consequences of sin and that we are of the earth, earthy. Yet, this does not discourage us. In these afflictions God causes us to depend on Him, that we may more rightly know Him. For ultimately in Christ we endure and are set free from sin, death, and disease. We have this freedom now in principle, yet we await the full reality when we shall enjoy heavenly bliss free from sin and the consequences of sin. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!
Delicate Balance in Our Lives
As we’ve noted, and as can be seen from the preceding example, our physical life is truly moment by moment existing in a fragile balance, sustained only by the word of God’s power. It is certainly true that every illness or disease is ultimately a homeostatic imbalance. What a marvel that for many of us the norm is a life with limited disease or disorders. When we consider the complicated delicate balances that must be maintained in our body every day, we marvel that, for example, a baby is born healthy and all is working well. Truly we are fearfully and wonderfully made! Truly we are upheld by the sovereign hand of the mighty God!
As good stewards of God’s creation—His temple—we certainly take interest in the delicate balance in our bodies and labor to ensure that it is maintained. We watch our sugar levels, monitor our blood pressure, or examine our cholesterol levels. As diligent as we are to keep our physical levels in check and in balance, so we should labor so that all things in our life are balanced. Scripture indicates that to us often, when it teaches us: “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life” (John 6:27a), or “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things” (I Tim. 4:8a). Just as all homeostatic imbalances lead to physical disruption in the body, so too improper setting of priorities and imbalances of activities in our busy lives leads to spiritual disruptions— we grow spiritually weaker when we seek for the physical rather than the spiritual. All of this reminds us to strive to keep our lives in a proper spiritual balance.
Finally, the delicate balances we observe in our physical bodies draw our attention to the will of God for us in our lives. God has promised to give us what we need, not according to our standards or our measuring rods, but according toHis will and good pleasure. God controls all the events of our lives and, in doing so, maintains just the proper balance for us. Everything comes in the correct amount and at the correct time in our lives. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: … [God] hath made every thing beautiful in his time” (Eccl. 3:1, 11). There may be times in our lives when we feel things are hopelessly imbalanced. For example, we may feel that we are receiving far too little of a particular blessing or far too much of a certain affliction. But we must humbly acknowledge that as God maintains a proper and delicate balance within our bodies, so much the more will He care for us spiritually. We do not sit in our homes fretting, wringing our hands in fear, worrying what may go wrong at any given second during the multitude of tasks carried out within our bodies. Neither may we fear God’s work in the other areas of our lives. Everything that happens to us is part of the delicate balance ordained by God to equip us for our lives here below and ultimately for our life in glory. “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him” (Eccl. 3:14). May we stand in awe of God, humbly confessing that we are not in control, but rather, that God is in sovereign control. In this knowledge may we rest assured that His way is wise and good. We give God our thanks always and in all things, knowing that our lives are in His hand.
¹ Robbins, Jim. “Lessons from the WOLF.” Scientific American. June 2004, pp. 76-81.
² See Standard Bearer. Volume 79 (January 1, 2003; February 1, 2003; March 1, 2003).
³ West, David. “80 Years of Insulin” YES Magazine: Canada’s Science Magazine for Kids. Nov/Dec 2001; pp. 10-11. Found on the Internet at: www.http://0discoverer.prod.sirs.com.elibrary.mel.org/discoweb/disco/do/article?urn=urn%3A
4 “Diabetes.” McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 1982; p. 154.