Previous article in this series: May 1, 2014, p. 352.
In our last article we began to look at some of the unique properties of water. We continue our examination of the properties of water based on its unique structure and polarity. We do so now, focusing on the goal of seeing the wisdom of God displayed in water. For God has created “all creatures as it seemed good unto Him, giving unto every creature its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its Creator” (Belgic Confession, Art. 12). Every creature has been created and continues to be maintained by God in a specific and unique way in order to reveal the many facets of His glory. Each creature has been perfectly and precisely formed so that it might accomplish the purpose for which God made it—Jehovah’s glory!
God’s wisdom is marvelously displayed with the most common substance on Earth—water. Consider the following unique properties of water and notice how they are each absolutely necessary to support life on Earth as we know it. Especially note how harmoniously the various parts of creation are interwoven—showing the great wisdom of God.
Under normal circumstances, water boils at 100°C (212°F) at sea-level. However, this boiling point does not fit the “pattern” one would expect if water is compared with its “sister” molecules (those made from two hydrogens bonded to other elements in the same family as oxygen). These sister molecules have a much lower boiling point than water has. If water behaved as one would expect, water (the smallest of the sister molecules) should have a boiling point of approximately -91°C (-132°F). (This temperature seems difficult to imagine because we associate the word boiling with hot temperatures; but many substances boil—change from liquid state to a vapor state—at very cold temperatures). If water had this supposed boiling point, we would experience water only in the gaseous state because we generally live in temperatures between -40°C (-40°F) and +40°C (104°F). We would have to experience a very frosty winter day (-90°C; that would be one for the record books!) in order for us to experience water in its liquid state. The practical significance of this is that if water behaved as expected, based on its size and family, we would never experience water in the liquid form. Our God has wisely given water a special boiling point to fit perfectly with the particular climate He also gave us.
Closely related to its boiling point, water also has a unique heat (not temperature) of vaporization—the amount of heat needed to change it from a liquid to a vapor; and an extremely high specific heat value—the amount of heat needed to change its temperature by any amount. These two heat values are very important. God uses these properties of water to regulate temperature. Consider, for example, water’s effect on climate. One has only to go to the beach of a large lake on a hot summer day to realize that the temperature at the beach is several degrees cooler than it is a few miles inland. This is because a tremendous amount of heat is necessary to make water’s temperature change at all. Sand or concrete, on the other hand, changes its temperature much more quickly when heated. Because of water’s ability to absorb a lot of heat without much change in its temperature, areas near lakes tend to be cooler than areas without lakes.
In addition to climate, water’s high heat capacity and heat of vaporization are instrumental in regulating our body temperature. When we get hot, we sweat. Sweat helps cool us because it must absorb a tremendous amount of energy in order to vaporize. So much heat is consequently removed from our body to evaporate the sweat that our body temperature drops—we are cooled. God wisely gave water this tremendous ability to absorb heat, in part, so that the temperature of our bodies, as well as that of our climate, may be carefully regulated. In addition to these exceptional properties, water, in its solid form, has a very unusual density. Only a handful of substances known to man expand when they freeze— most substances shrink in volume and become denser. Consequently, most substances in their solid form will sink when placed in a container with their liquid counterpart. But not so with water. When water is cooled, its particles slow down and get closer together. However, just before the water reaches its freezing point of 0°C, the particles no longer are able to be “pushed” any closer together. On the contrary—they actually begin to organize into hexagonal patterns, taking up more space than they did before. These hexagonal patterns provide a very orderly structure that occupies more space than the molecules did as they slid past each other in the liquid state. Thus water actually expands as it freezes.
This special feature of water has profound effects. The fact that water expands when it freezes means that ice will float on water. This has the obvious benefit of permitting the pleasurable activity of ice-skating. But there are far more important reasons for ice to float on water. Ice insulates lakes from the cold winter air—allowing fish and plant life to continue to live below. If, theoretically speaking, ice were heavier than water, then, when the water was sufficiently cold, ice that forms at the surface (where it is coldest) would sink to the bottom. In time the lake would fill with ice, effectively killing plant and animal life. Again God’s wise design of water—creating it so that it expands when it freezes—displays His care for all His creatures, ensuring that plant and animal life may be sustained during the colder months.
God also cares for the creation by means of another distinctive property of water—its high surface tension. Water molecules are strongly attracted to each other because of their great polarity, which we described in the last article. But they also are attracted to other molecules. In very narrow tubes, called capillaries (as found in plant roots, for example), water molecules are attracted to the molecules of the capillary. They cling to the capillary walls and slowly “climb” along it, fighting against the downward force of gravity. Capillary action is the wise means God uses to give plant life its life-giving water supply.
Wisdom of God Revealed
God is wise!
Wisdom is the marvelous virtue of the Most High that is displayed in the perfect harmony and adaptation to one another of all things, so that each creature in the whole cosmos has its own name, occupies its own place, serves its own purpose, and is perfectly adapted to serve that purpose; and so that the individual purpose of each creature is subservient to the purpose of the whole: the revelation of God’s name and the praises of his glorious virtues.1
Consider all the things we have just discussed! Because water has a distinct shape and polarity, it exhibits unique properties that impact the climate of the world; that allow our bodies to be cooled when we sweat; that protect the life of aquatic plants and animals during winter; that give necessary water supply to many plants; and that permit it to exist in a liquid form at the typical temperatures that we live at in order that we may have fresh water with which to drink, cook, and clean. What a marvelous and wise design! God made this main character in the Elegant Book of Creation so beautiful, harmonious, and intricately detailed that it may work with all the other characters in order that life may abound. Truly each creature is perfectly equipped that it might fit in the whole in order to “serve its Creator” (BC Art. 12)!
This is what Herman Hoeksema reminds us of when he writes: “When…it is declared that God saw what He had made, and that it was very good, then this does not simply denote that there was no imperfection in the work of God as it stood at that very moment before His face, but also that everything was adapted to the final purpose unto which God from the very beginning had created all things”2 (emphasis mine). That original creation was very good because everything was perfectly adapted to the final purpose for which God in His counsel had ordained it. In His wisdom, God perfectly gave every creature the exact characteristics necessary for it to fit harmoniously with the rest of creation in order for all creatures to accomplish their ordained callings. From that perspective, water, as it is connected to all the other creatures and as it serves its place and purpose in creation, was created in the only way it could be. Any different properties would have necessitated an entirely different cosmos. In His sovereign good pleasure, God willed water (and all other creatures in connection to it) to have the precise characteristics it has so that He could be glorified in the highest possible way. That’s God’s wisdom—sovereignly and powerfully creating all things in such a way that His name is glorified to the utmost degree.
If we marvel at God’s wisdom shown in the beautiful harmony of the creation—how climate, body cooling, and floating ice on the lake, for example, are all possible by His wise design of water molecules—so much the more we stand in awe of His wisdom in our salvation. We confess: “Yea, all things must be subservient to my salvation” (Heidelberg Catechism, LD 1), and “He doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for His children and heirs, and therefore will provide us with every good thing, and avert all evil or turn it to our profit” (Baptism form). What wisdom of God is displayed in the perfect working of all events in our lives—the sickness and the health; the riches and the poverty; yea, all things—for our salvation! Not only in God’s providential care of the creation, but also in our daily lives we see God’s wisdom, that is, that God directs all things so that He is glorified in the highest possible way. Whether we have cancer, lose our job, suffer persecution for Christ’s sake, or lose a dear loved one—all things in this life are ordained and sovereignly directed by God for our good and for His glory. Our lives are the way they are, because this is the sovereign will of God for us so that His name is glorified. “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all” (). O the wisdom and majesty of God! Far beyond our comprehension!
Not only is God’s wisdom displayed in the perfect harmony of all things, but it is especially displayed in Jesus Christ and His work of salvation. This is because Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God (). Jesus Christ is the “brightness of his [God’s] glory, and the express image of his person” ( ). He is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature,” by whom and for whom all things were created and by whom all things consist ( ). Above all, God is pleased to glorify Himself in and through Jesus Christ. Therefore, when creation (in picture-form) points us to the work of Christ, it reveals to us God’s wisdom in an even richer sense. As we noted in a previous article, water teaches us of Christ’s work. For example, water is the substance that we drink every day to sustain our life. This life-sustaining physical water is a picture of Jesus Christ, the Living Water. In addition, water, with its unique ability to dissolve substances, is the substance that we use every day to wash away the filth from our skin and our clothes. This cleansing ability of water is a picture of the blood of Jesus Christ, which washes away our sins (BC Art. 34). To us who wear the spectacles of Scripture, water pictures the work of Jesus Christ—and thereby displays God’s wisdom.
When we look at water, or any other part of creation, in the light of Scripture, we see the wisdom of God—whether that be manifested in His marvelous and harmonious works in creation or in the spiritual pictures of Christ and His work of salvation. In all His works—in Creation and in salvation—God is glorified. What marvelous wisdom—revealing His glory in the highest possible way! “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! …For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” ().