Science: The spark of life

The beginning of life has always amazed me. The fact that God designed life to start from something as small as an egg cell (ovum), united in the womb with an even smaller sperm cell (spermatozoon), is remarkable to say the least. At the moment of that union, known as conception, cells begin to multiply and a human life begins to take shape. Based on recent research, some scientists now refer to the moment of conception as the spark of life.

The term spark of life has been used over the years to convey several meanings. In her book Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body, Frances Ashcroft notes how electricity drives all we think, feel and do by moving through the ion channels in the membranes of the cells in our body. Because of this phenomenon, doctors are able to use an EKG to measure the electrical activity of our heart. This phenomenon explains how we discern a particular substance (like a chili pepper) as being hot. It also explains how a blood-sucking vampire bat detects the body heat of its prey (like the heat coming from your big toe as it protrudes outside the protective mosquito netting!).

Conception: the spark of life

Recent research concerning the spark of life comports with what Christians have believed for centuries—life begins at conception. Formal teaching of this belief goes back at least as far as the fourth-century writings of Basil the Great (one of the first and best theologians of the Trinity).

Though it is common to refer metaphorically to the “fireworks” that accompany conception, researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago recently have shown that another kind of fireworks occurs when the egg and sperm unite, forming a zygote. As shown in the artist’s illustration above and the amazing video below, at the moment of conception a flash of light occurs as a zap of energy is released around the newly fertilized egg. Though scientists had seen this phenomenon in other animals, the Northwestern researchers were the first to see it in humans. The flash occurs when the sperm cell enters the egg, triggering an increase in calcium, which then releases zinc from the egg. As the zinc shoots out, it binds to small molecules that emit fluorescence. In a press release, one of the researchers shared her excitement in this discovery: “To see the zinc radiate out in a burst from each human egg was breathtaking.”

Light and life

I love this discovery because it serves as yet another parable in nature pointing to God, the unseen Source of the light and life of the world. From antiquity there has been a recognition that there is a relationship in the natural world between light and life. This association was used by the biblical writers to point to the deeper and unseen reality of the gracious relationship between God and his creation. The nature and quality of this relationship was fully and finally revealed in the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ, beginning with his conception in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit as she received and freely submitted to the invisible Word spoken to her by the angel of God. You will recall Mary’s response: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38 KJV).

The apostle John wrote this about Jesus: “In him was life; and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:4). In John’s Gospel, “light” is used 16 times to describe the work of Christ. Jesus is not merely a light, or another light among many. Rather, he is the only Light and the true Light (John 1:9). In claiming to be the Light of the World, Jesus was clearly declaring himself to be the Messiah. Since one of the names of the expected Messiah was light (Isaiah 60:19-22), there could be no question about his self-identification.

Knowing who Jesus is should, perhaps, make the discovery of the phenomenon of the flashing spark of light at conception a bit less surprising. Jesus is the life-giver and it is as though he gives an approving wink at each moment of conception. And since Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith, he will finish what he starts in each of us as we return a loving response to him, growing up in him and receiving from him a share in God’s own kind of life, that is, eternal life.

The theme of light goes all through the Scriptures and is even used to describe God’s throne in the book of Revelation:

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. (Revelation 4:1-5)

Yes, life does begin with fireworks. But God apparently has more fireworks in store for us as we celebrate life in the Trinity for all eternity. I look forward to seeing the fireworks display!

Author: Joseph Tkach


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