Telomeres. I’ve run into this term several times recently, and then my doctor wrote about them in an article entitled “Successful Aging.” Ah. What are these? (I didn’t learn about them in high school or college biology.) There is the science of telomeres, and then there is the theology of them. The latter comes from my pedestrian theology, not my doctor’s spirituality. Yes, if we’re slow enough to consider (and God gave me the gift of slowness), we may see that everything physical reveals corresponding, spiritual realities.
I have read that “the average person” is composed of over 32 trillion cells, each cell containing 23 pairs of chromosomes with each chromosome composed of a very long pair of spiraling, DNA strands.* Selah (that is, “ponder this”)! Now, where do telomeres come in?
You and I have trillions of those too! Telomeres are segments, the end caps, of our chromosomes, a part of our DNA. Like the plastic caps at the end of shoestrings protecting their integrity, telomeres protect our DNA. Yet, telomeres can only last so long in protecting our DNA and our life spans.
In order to maintain life, our cells divide and reproduce themselves, renewing themselves. My doctor, Dr. Susan Godman, writes “that the telomere gets shorter with each cell division, inherently limiting the number of times that a cell can divide before dying off, and that different types of cells have different telomere lengths. Researchers are now exploring interventions that curtail or stop the telomere from getting shorter, and ways to add length back on to the telomere.”
You can read her fascinating article called “Successful Aging” here:
http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?m=1102588223228&ca=4491b64a-c0e0-4cac-8fba-dac110badad2 . (Her clinic, Partners in Health Care Naturally, sends out regular articles written by various members of the team. The clinic has a website, but they only keep a few, recent articles posted there, so I have to send this article to you via the email address of the article.)
Even though she does not/cannot offer ultimate solutions, Dr. Godman confronts me with particular, real issues of life. From here, I pick up the story. I interpret matters of the material world as messengers from the spiritual world. Consider the biblical perspective and directive:
II Corinthians 4:18 tells us, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Colossians 1:15 tell us that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God,” and the next verse claims, “For by Him all things were created both in the heavens and on the earth, viisble and invisible. . .” The verse concludes that “all things [visible and invisible] have been created by Him and for Him.” Therefore, verse 17 declares that “in Him all things [visible and invisible] consist” or “hold together”.
We could mine many other passages that deal with the seen and the unseen worlds, the physical creation and the immaterial creation. The immaterial world includes the laws of nature, the souls of creatures, and the spirits of human beings and angelic beings. The ultimate, immaterial reality is God (John 4:24), who is separate from creation, yet very near it, and Self-sustaining. Selah.
I would place our DNA within both the material and immaterial categories. On a microscopic level, there is a material manifestation (so it is a part of the seen world). However, this microscopic material communicates information, and this information reveals pre-existing, immaterial intelligence (evidence of the unseen world).
This immaterial intelligence becomes the fingerprint of the Logos explained in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word [the Logos] and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” That Greek word, Logos, translated Word in English, expresses the idea of intelligence, reason, and discourse. We get the word, logic, from the word, logos. The invisible information translated as the blueprint of all of the laws of nature — including the DNA of creatures — declares the design of the Creator and the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-3). The New Testament audaciously claims (so it seems, but is it?) that the Creator is none other than Jesus Christ Himself.
Believe it or not, this is the claim. We must admit that we are the product of the laws of nature. We did not invent ourselves. Time for some gratitude: our words are not enough but are significant. “Thank You, Lord!”
Back to our telomeres. How did we live without knowing we are composed of trillions of them protecting our DNA? How did humans live for millennia without knowing about DNA, cell life, atomic structure, the invisible world of germs, the connection between gut health and brain health. . . .?
Dust to dust. With the Psalmist we ask, “What is humanity that Thou art mindful of us?” Yet, our DNA strands with their protective telomeres demonstrate His mindfulness. Selah!
This microscopic matter that is both material and immaterial has been telling a true tale all of our lives: God is the Potter and we are the clay. He is LORD and we are His. His whatever. His children, His servants, His masterpieces, His responsibilities, His friends. . . .
Dr. John Frame explains God as LORD through three categories of His LORDship.** God is Authority [Author-Designer]. God is in Control. God is Present. We see the story of this LORD told through our telomeres.
Scientists and doctors may learn to manipulate our DNA, to extend to some degree our telomeres and lives, but God is the Author and ultimate Controller of telomeres and life. Moreover, the presence of our guiding DNA reminds us of the nearness of God, His Presence. Just as many of us may not have known of the existence of our telomeres for much of our lives, we also may have been unaware of God’s presence and His care and character. But we can learn and be thankful.
My favorite, biblical passage these days speaks to such themes. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly [physically] we are wasting away, yet inwardly [spiritually] we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal “(II Corinthians 4:16-18).
Dr. Godman, entitles her article, “Successful Aging.” Hmm. Moses addresses successful aging in his prayer recorded in Psalm 90. “So teach us to number our days that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 NASB).
We did not need to know about telomeres to know our days are numbered. However, knowing about telomeres shows us a clear example of God’s LORDship: His authority (design), control, and presence. As I mentioned earlier, I interpret matters of the material world as messengers from the spiritual world.
Maybe our telomeres are like cherubim (plural of cherub): both God’s angelic protectors and messengers. Like cherubim who guarded the Garden of Eden, telomeres guard our lives. We too are His garden, inwardly renewed day by day. As cherubim point to God’s infinite majesty, telomeres point out our finite glory, urging us to expend wisely our limited opportunities to love and serve God and others.
Telomeres tell true tales. DNA by DNA they claim:
“This is your God-given life — from here to here.
Wisely invest your days, for they are graciously numbered.
Your own, personal Telomeres.”
** John. M. Frame. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. New Jersey: P & R Publishers, 1987.