If the Human Genome Project (HGP) teaches us anything, it is that there is more to existence than meets the eye. When we look in the mirror we are seeing one hundred trillion cells put together into a neat package called ‘me’ that walks, talks, thinks and moves in the distinct manner we do. The 2.7 billion dollars that went into the HGP allowed researchers to discover the complexity of the human genetic infrastructure that is hidden in every one of our cells. You and I don’t see that in ourselves on a daily basis, but we’d be foolish to refute it. The scientists know it, but we just have to believe it. Everything that can be seen about us, our physical make-up, how we appear, what our bodies look like, goes by the term phenotype; those are our observable traits. They don’t come out of nothing. They develop directly from our genotype – the blueprint that directs development from our conception through to our birth, on into adulthood, even into how we age. It is not random; our genotype codes for our phenotype with a complexity and order that is breath-taking.
We sense it most tangibly at the birth of a baby; we see unveiled the expression of the unique genotype of this newborn human, and it brings us great joy. But what about the other end of this amazing journey of human life? What about the day, many years later, when that baby has become an old man or woman and breathes his or her last? Does the genotype/phenotype reality just end there?
In the second half of his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul reveals an understanding of genetics that is far ahead of his time. He talks about genomes of species.
“When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another…”
In other words, God creates the genotype/phenotype process. It’s part of what is described in the Genesis account of creation’s day’s end: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
But Paul doesn’t stop at the physical genotype/phenotype phenomenon. In fact he’s quite blunt in saying we are foolish if we think that is all there is. He says that our physical phenotype – our body as we see it – houses more than a merely physical genotype. It is a seed of things to come. The new birth that comes when we turn in trust toward Jesus’ redeeming work for our soul creates in us a spiritual genotype; we have a new genome that cannot be discovered by any collection of researchers regardless of billions of dollars spent.
This genotype will not find its phenotypical expression until we undergo physical death. It’s a sowing of a seed, of sorts. It’s a planting that leaves those of us left behind either wondering or in wonder. The germination of this seed will not be visible in this earthly realm, because it is moving into a new realm; it’s a realm where the perishable becomes imperishable, the dishonourable becomes glorious, the weak powerful, and the natural spiritual.
“And,” observes Paul, “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” That is Jesus. That is where our hope finds its source and its fulfillment. It is the seed of things to come, things that are not visible now because we just don’t have the phenotypical eyes to see what our future eyes will see. Paul closes the chapter by summarizing, “then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’.”
Our earthly genotype is fraught with the problem of death. But our spiritual genotype goes the needed step further so that we can realize what we were made for. Our lives here and now are just the seed. Yes, we must care well for that seed, not because of how it looks now, but because of what’s inside it; it is designed to become so much more. Let’s stop dressing that seed up like it’s only this present life that is reality. Jesus led the way. Let’s follow in His footsteps and be the seed we were designed to be.
(Photo Credit: Vinayaraj, Wikimedia Commons)