If you’ve played in any ocean, you’ve probably done it—accidentally swallowed a mouthful of seawater. Yuck! Along with sharks and sunburn, swallowing seawater is one of the downsides of a day at the beach. Children learn this at an early age: “Mommy, this water tastes BAD!”
Providentially, I assume, it tastes bad because it’s not good for humans to ingest. And yet seawater, in its natural, balanced state, contains all the chemical elements necessary to sustain life on planet earth. (Remember—ocean animals and plants do just fine living in seawater.)
Seawater contains a perfect balance of around one hundred elements. Many of those elements we’re familiar with: oxygen, hydrogen, calcium, magnesium, iron, and so on. Other elements appear in only trace amounts—less than one hundred parts per million. And some elements have very unusual names: technetium, tantalum, samarium, yttrium, and others. Some, like arsenic, can be deadly in concentrated amounts.
But mix all those elements together in their proper balance, and they become the source of physical life for the planet. Mineral elements are absolutely critical for human health. That’s why our food-bearing plants have been called “mineral transfer devices.” They absorb minerals from the earth with their roots and deposit those minerals in the plant’s fruit so we can then ingest the minerals. Every single natural element has a role to play in the health of the planet and its creatures and plants.
Somewhere along the way you were introduced to the elements in what is called the Periodic Table. It’s a chart, first published in 1869 by a Russian chemist named Dmitri Mendeleev, of all the known elements in the world (at that time). In 1863, only 56 chemical elements had been identified, but now the number has grown to 118. The elements are numbered according to their atomic “weight” (the number of protons in each atom’s nucleus), then grouped on the basis of shared characteristics.
What is important, and fascinating, about the Periodic Table is how it reflects the detailed planning of our wonderful Creator God. Every chemical needed for the sustenance of human, animal, and plant life on earth is there—or was there “in the beginning” when planet earth was spoken into life by God. All the original elements are still on the planet, but many that were in the topsoil of the continents have washed into the oceans—and our food and health suffer from the demineralization of the earth.
And there is a spiritual lesson to be gleaned from the elements: Just as God ordained that physical life on earth should consist of balancing many different chemical elements, so a healthy spiritual life is a balance of many different elements as well. Keeping all the elements of the spiritual life in their proper place and in proper balance is our long-term goal in the Christian life.
An example: Pure drinking water, the liquid that sustains our life, is commonly referred to as H2O—that means one water molecule contains one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. But what if we add an extra oxygen atom to the two hydrogen atoms? Then we get H2O2, the chemical designation for hydrogen peroxide—a clear liquid that looks like water but is highly dangerous in its undiluted form. The hydrogen peroxide you have in your medicine cabinet at home is only a three percent solution—strong enough to clean, but not strong enough to burn. But a laboratory or commercial grade (thirty percent strong) of H2O2 can burn your flesh, discolor your countertops, and clean industrial tools. Adding one extra oxygen atom to H2O creates H2O2—and changes a life-giving liquid into a potentially dangerous one. Thus the need for balance.
I am not a chemist or a scientist, but I can only imagine that the greatest care must be exercised when working with chemical elements. When we’re talking about the difference a single atom can make, we’re talking about a deliberate and delicate balancing act. If such care must be exercised when balancing chemical elements that sustain physical life, how much more care should we exercise in balancing the elements that sustain our spiritual life? What good is it if we gain the whole (physical) world but lose our soul—temporally or eternally—in the process (Matthew 16:26)?
Dr. Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and senior pastor of
Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California.
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