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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

All Creatures of Our God and King

In 1858, Isaac Dowd Williamson, a Universalist minister, composer of a substantial portion of the ritual of the Order of Odd-Fellows, religious newspaper editor, and author of several theological and philosophy books, published a didactic work for children titled, Glimpses of the Wonderful: A Series of Instructive Sketches for the Young. The purpose of the book was to teach children about many of the world's wonders and oddities and to show how God had a hand in them all. He started the book with "Peeps Through the Microscope," wherein he observed that although we may feel like insignificant "pigmy insects" when we consider our tiny presence in the vastness of the universe that God created, there are other life forms far smaller than us that bear the signature of God:

"... there are myriads of living creatures swarming around us, each one framed with the nicest skill - each endowed with capacities of enjoyment - each having some service to perform in creation ... Yes, - every tiny leaf, every drop of water, is a world in which multitudes of God's creatures are born, with frames of workmanship as curious and as wondrous as ours; and there they live and sport with evident enjoyment throughout their little day, fulfil the end of their tiny being, and then give way to new generations."

The minister provided a wonderful illustration of the life that was found in a single drop of water by a mid-nineteenth century microscope and illustrator; the sample was replete with life forms resembling six-legged starfish, insect larvae, and all manner of micro-beasts bearded with cilia or propelled by a single rat-tailed flagellum:
"Looking through a powerful microscope at that tiny drop, we may see creatures of shapes like those depicted there, and many more besides ... Even for the pleasures and the needs of beings such as these, whose universe is a drop of water, God provides; and shall He not care for us?"
Today, 151 years later, man is working really hard to overcome his child-like fascination with the inhabitants of worlds both infinitesimal and celestial; as a species we seem to be diminishing the significance and even the existence of a God we cannot see and eliminating the existence of micro-organisms that we cannot see without the aid of microscopes, which few of us ever use. We look to the Lilliputian creatures of the water drop as the enemy that they often are, and take all kinds of modern, scientific measures to blow them out of the water, so to speak. Kleenex brand tissues are currently available in a variety that promises to kill 99.9% of all cold and flu viruses. They reinforce this lethal message with consumer packaging that shows cartoon versions of the creepy-crawlies that Isaac Dowd Williamson found in his 1858 microscope. They are no longer the creatures of wonder over which Williamson marveled because now Kleenex kills 'em dead. The comforting lesson of the good minister has been twisted into a new conundrum by modern science, and that is, if we can so quickly and easily and completely destroy those little "pigmy insects" because they are so troublesome, will God soon eradicate the troublesome human life forms on planet Earth with His giant Kleenex?

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