Mr. Minderhoud is a teacher in Covenant Christian High School and a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church, Walker, Michigan.
Article 12 of our Belgic Confession of Faith begins “We believe that the Father, by the Word, that is, by His Son, hath created of nothing the heaven, the earth, and all creatures as it seemed good unto Him, giving unto every creature its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its Creator; that He doth also still uphold and govern them by His eternal providence and infinite power, for the service of mankind, to the end that man may serve his God.”
This article of the Belgic Confession is significant because of the many valuable truths of Scripture it brings to our attention. We could look at the truth of Scripture that God created all things by the second person of the Trinity—the Son; that is, that the creation was created by Christ and for Christ. Or we could focus on the truth that God created all things out of nothing—a truth denied by those who hold to any form of evolution. Another perspective of the article that we could consider is the sovereignty of God shown in His creating of all creatures so that nothing can claim to be independent of His work. God’s sovereignty is further demonstrated in that He created “as it seemed good unto Him.” In wisdom He determined how each creature should look and function. Although one could consider Article 12 from many doctrinal points of view, we hope in this article to focus on the truth that God created the entire essence of every creature for the ultimate purpose of His own glory.
It is of no small significance that Article 12 points the child of God to the truth of God’s creating all things, including His giving to each creature its “being, shape, form, and several offices (roles or functions, JM).” The idea of the word “being” is that God gave to each creature its existence (read Job 38:1-12; Ps. 33:6, 9; Ps. 139:13-16). By the word “shape” we should understand that God gave to each creature its structure and unique characteristics. And by the word “form” we should understand that God gave to each creature its own unique nature and mode of existence (read Job 39:13-25;Job 40:15-24; Ps. 139:14). These first three words that Article 12 uses have the intentof communicating to us that the entire essence of the creature is created and maintained by God—even its offices, or its roles and duties in the creation (read Ps. 104:10-24). God led our church fathers to make such a statement and summary of the teaching of Scripture to teach us to look more closely at God’s work of creation in the light of Scripture, in order that we might grow in our knowledge of Him and so worship Him.
To study the “being, shape, form, and several offices” of various creatures is also important because too many in the church world today might confess that God created each creature, that is, gave it its being, but deny that He is sovereign in giving to each creature its shape, form, and calling within the creation. Many will attribute these other aspects to some evolutionary process. I believe that many of the ethical issues we observe in the scientific community and in society at large result from an evolutionistic and humanistic perspective that is in utter rebellion against the Sovereign Creator of heaven and earth, who with wisdom beyond that which we can fathom gave to each creature its being, shape, form, and several offices. For this reason, too, I think it is vital for us to observe the creation and, using our “Spectacles,” look to see in each creature the hand of our Almighty Father. We need to do this more often than we do. We are not immune to the temptations of our natures to view issues from a perspective that denies the work of God in creating every aspect of a creature’s essence. We do well to be reminded of God’s complete work in the creation of all things.
Generally, when we consider God’s creative work of giving to each creature its being, shape, form, and several offices, the things we readily see with our eyes, such as, ants, bears, or trees come to mind. But to appreciate God’s wonderwork in some of His tiniest creatures is to appreciate it in all of His works. Thus, I think it is valuable to share with you the being, shape, form, and several offices of one of God’s microscopic creatures, the element nitrogen and its compounds, that in the study of such a tiny creature we might stand in greater awe of God’s creative work!
Without going into an extensive study of the characteristics of nitrogen and its compounds, we should look closely enough at it to see that God not only gave to nitrogen its existence, but also gave it all of its special characteristics in order to fulfill specific purposes. Two main characteristics of nitrogen atoms and its compounds are significant. Nitrogen, different than most elements, is designed by God to receive many electrons or to give up many of its electrons. This characteristic gives nitrogen the ability to make a large range of compounds. The second major characteristic of nitrogen is that two of its five outer electrons are often not used in bonding with other atoms (bonding is a sharing of electrons between atoms). Many compounds formed from nitrogen have two electrons that are not shared with its neighboring atoms. This outer, lone pair of electrons becomes significant in terms of the various unique properties that the compounds will then exhibit. For example, these two electrons are a part of the reason why some nitrogen compounds dissolve well in water. These two characteristics constitute a small beginning of an understanding of the shape and form of nitrogen and begin to help us see the marvelous work of God in creation—a work we too often fail to examine closely.
The air that we breathe contains several important molecules. Obviously, we recognize that air contains the molecule oxygen. Without it we would perish in minutes. But another important molecule exists in the air we breathe. About eighty percent of air molecules are nitrogen gas molecules. Because of their makeup, these molecules cannot be used directly by our bodies for any of our living functions. Nevertheless, our bodies are indirectly dependent upon them. The need that our bodies have for nitrogen warrants a closer study as to how God “fits” nitrogen to be used by us and in service to us that we may honor His name.
The nitrogen gas molecules in the creation are part of a God-ordained cycle that man has named the nitrogen cycle. God has placed the nitrogen gas molecules in the air as a rich storehouse of nitrogen that is needed in other places of the creation. These nitrogen gas molecules are used by creatures within the creation for basic living processes and are returned to the air when the organism dies, completing the cycle.
Nitrogen in its many roles is found throughout the creation. Nitrogen atoms bonded with oxygen atoms form a group of atoms called “nitrate ions.” Nitrate ions are a vital form of nitrogen that God uses to provide plants with the source of nitrogen they need to grow and develop. These ions are taken into the plant via its roots and are used to make larger molecules, such as amino acids and proteins. Nitrogen atoms bonded to three hydrogen atoms form ammonia. Ammonia is used in preparing a variety of useful things such as fertilizers, fibers, plastics, and even explosives. In addition to those uses, most mothers know from their everyday experiences that ammonia is also an excellent household cleaner.
Nitrate ions and ammonia molecules demonstrate some of the tiny compounds in which nitrogen is found. However, nitrogen is also found in very large molecules of hundreds of atoms. Just over 50 years ago, James Watson and Francis Crick wrote about their model of the double helix of DNA, the massive molecule that carries genetic information and is crucial to our understanding of modern genetics. Basic to their work on the structure of DNA was an understanding of what things were necessary to form DNA. Scientists had learned that special molecules containing nitrogen (nucleotides) were the structures that tied one “ladder” or helix of DNA to another. Even the massive molecule of DNA was designed by God to be put together by structures that have nitrogen atoms as their key component.
Not only are nitrogen atoms used to make DNA, but other large molecules, such as amino acids and proteins, are dependent on the presence of nitrogen in their structures. Amino acids are put together within living organisms to make larger molecules called proteins, which contain many nitrogen atoms. We can begin to understand the importance of proteins when we realize that they are a vital molecule found throughout all living organisms. Proteins are found in certain body tissues, such as cartilage, bone, and muscle. Proteins are found in hormones, which regulate many of the bodily functions of plants, animals, and humans. There are also proteins in antibodies which protect us and animals from disease. Even enzymes, which control certain complex chemical reactions, are proteins. Is it not amazing how God created nitrogen atoms to be used by our bodies to make everything from muscle tissue, to hair, to components of our blood—even to DNA, the basic genetic molecules of our body! This emphatically demonstrates the value and importance of nitrogen atoms. Simply put, we could not live without it. We can only marvel at the vast amount of uses God has for such a small element within His creation, and how it displays His providential care over us and all creatures.How amazing! God gave to nitrogen and its compounds all of their various characteristics, and He upholds them in their functions every moment of every day. God gave this creature such “being, shape, and form” that it has a tremendous impact on all living substances as it is weaved into the very fabric of all living things. We ought to be humbled to see how mighty God is and how in His wisdom He makes our earthly existence dependent, in part, upon such a tiny creature, which He sovereignly controls and directs. We see the work of a sovereign God in the movements and roles of these molecules. This is obviously not the work of any mere creature, nor the happenstance of some evolutionary process. We see the deliberate and providential hand of a sovereign Ruler. May we bow before Him as we see His power and wisdom in the intricate movements and activities of each molecule. May God give us grace to see more and more His handiwork displayed in all of His creatures. May we rise each day and take more time to consider how other creatures have been given their being, shape, form, and functions by God. May we grow in awe of our Creator God, who gives to each creature its work and upholds all of them by His providence for our service and care that we may serve our God.