The Fifteenth Century of His-Story – The Church Squeezed Through a Genetic Bottleneck

God describes the church that he gathers throughout all history as a beautiful body and a glorious temple. One aspect of that beauty is the diversity and variety of different people that are united into one glorious whole. The entire universal body of believers is united as a spiritual body, and an individual congregation also expresses that beauty and unity as the members serve one another with their unique gifts and bear one another’s burdens (Heidelberg Catechism LD 21). The variety of unique individuals, personalities, and nations is astounding. God works this variety through the means of his providential guidance of the complex interaction of factors that regulate the expression of genes in our DNA. God created creatures to have a great deal of genetic diversity so that they would multiply and be able to adapt to a variety of environmental conditions filling every nook and cranny of the earth and every cornice of the glorious temple of God.

We discuss this topic of the church as a body and the related concept of diversity among people at this point (the fifteenth century of history) because God will soon send the Flood which will destroy much of the diversity. At this point in history, all the genetic information necessary for the great variety of people that exist today would be carried by eight people through the Flood, through a genetic bottleneck. In these few people was all the genetic information for skin colors ranging from black to white, sizes from pygmies to giants, the whole spectrum of personality types, and everything else that makes each individual today unique. The sections of DNA in their cells which contain the code for determining skin color, for example, had all the diversity necessary to make all the colors we have today. How those colors were expressed in their children and grandchildren, etc. would depend on how the genetic code from each parent was combined as well as a host of environmental factors present from conception throughout the development of the child. How this diversity comes about has been studied since Gregor Mendel’s work with genetics in the late 1800s, but new fascinating discoveries have recently been made opening up a new field called “epigenetics.”

We noticed last time that the church by this time was growing very small while the rest of mankind was growing exponentially in every way—numbers, power, worldly wisdom, and pride. If we think about the human race as a genealogy tree with Adam and Eve as the trunk, the tree has become enormous with millions of branches. The church, on the other hand, has become only one of the twigs and will soon be down to Noah’s family and the spouses of his three sons. This twig, as it were, will soon be plucked from the tree and replanted after the Flood. The rest of living mankind will be destroyed, and with that destruction would come the destruction of much of the genetic diversity.

With the loss of genetic diversity comes weakness. In the animal world, when a population of a certain species of animal becomes small, the ability to produce strong offspring is also diminished and the species is in great danger of spiraling toward extinction. Intermarriage between close relatives also can result in weakness and health problems. Adam and Eve’s children had an enormous resource of genetic diversity and therefore there were no genetic problems with the intermarriage of siblings. Even after many generations to the time of Noah, plenty of genetic diversity remained in individuals to prevent crippling weaknesses in the children of Noah’s sons. The weakness may have been one of the reasons for the greatly reduced lifespan of people after the Flood.

The loss of genetic diversity in individuals has a positive effect as well. With more individuals, more of the individual traits and combinations of traits are expressed unveiling the full beauty of God’s church. As time goes on, more and more of the unique characteristics of the diversity get expressed. Perhaps the process could be compared to the phenomenon of white light being split into the colors of the rainbow. Adam and Even would be like the white light which is in reality composed of a diversity of colors. Each generation gives expression to different parts of the spectrum. Each of these colors can in turn be combined and recombined to form millions of different colors. We don’t see the great diversity of color/people until the full range is expressed after many generations and children.

The wonder and power of God’s grace is revealed in the fact that he gathers each one to fit in the particular place in his church. Each one serves the other in the same way each part of the body serves the whole. Though the universal church is numbered as the sand of the sea and the stars of heaven, and though it spans thousands of years and many generations, God shows to each of us every day an example of this glorious church in the local congregation to which we belong. As we grow in knowledge and faith, we begin to take our place in the church and serve our brothers and sisters in the Lord.