In the immense universe stretching through the vastness of space is our nearest neighbor the moon. Man has actually walked on its dry dusty face. We now know for certainty it is barren, desolate and devoid of even the simplest forms of life. What a contrast to colorful planet earth, our home—a sphere of striking beauty, green, fresh, fertile and teeming with life in great profusion. A dazzling diversity of life!
What makes the difference between the lifeless moon and the living earth? There is nothing else quite like water in the entire universe. In a surprising variety of ways the peculiar properties of water seem to have been designed expressly to make the world hospitable to life, and the earth has a great abundance of water. It covers about 70 percent of the earth’s surface. That is an estimated 326 million cubic miles of water. If the surface of the earth were perfectly smooth, the waters of the oceans would cover the earth uniformly to a depth of between 8,000 and 9,000 feet. However, only a fraction of one percent of all the water of earth can be called fresh water or water suitable for our personal use.
Most of us tend to regard this remarkable substance as ordinary, but we must not take it for granted, for in reality it is the most extraordinary substance in the universe and one upon which we are totally dependent for life.
The symbol for water, H2O—two atoms of hydrogen, and one atom of oxygen, is rather short as chemical formulas go, but that is water!
Hydrogen itself is a gas, the lightest of all elements and very flammable. Oxygen is also a gas and readily supports combustion.
Think of it—two gases—hydrogen, which is highly combustible, and oxygen which supports combustion. When combined in precisely the right proportion they form water, man’s chief agent for putting out fires.
When you heat water to 212 F it ceases to be a liquid and becomes a gas. When you cool water to 32 F it freezes. Why water reacts precisely as it does can be understood only by examining the structure of the water molecule itself, which looks something like the head of a mouse. The parts that look like the ears of a mouse represent two hydrogen atoms, the larger part represents an oxygen atom.
The two elements are quick to join each other and once together are difficult to separate because of the strong electrical attraction between them much like a magnet.
Given enough time, water will dissolve almost any other substance, for it comes closer to any other liquid to being a universal solvent and plays an important part in erosion. As water erodes, it picks up chemicals and minerals and were it not for the ability of water to dissolve or break down the molecular structure of other substances, plants would not get the nutrients they need.
Water’s force in motion is another factor dramatically evident in its power to erode. Its relentless motion through continuing centuries has helped to shape earth’s surface in rugged artistry. Cutting and chiseling through solid rock, water has sculptured deep canyons of spectacular grandeur.
Have you ever wondered why water forms into a drop or bead, how it holds itself together? Again, the explanation is found in the molecule. Once formed, water molecules join to each other in a sort of liquid latticework. In the liquid state, the negative side of one molecule is attracted or joined to the positive side of another. These attractions or bonds are formed and broken at random. At the surface where the liquid stops, the surface molecules cling to the ones below and to the sides. This cohesion creates a sort of skin that holds the water together, providing what is called surface tension. A drop of water takes the shape of a sphere. The skin of the molecule holds the sphere together. A water strider can walk on water, for the skin provides a surface.
Water skin is also illustrated in the old saying “like water off a duck’s back.” It is surface tension, which causes water to bead and roll off the bird’s back. Actually, due to surface tension these coots (swimming or diving birds) are sealed in an envelope of air as they dive, but perhaps the greatest work of surface tension in supporting life is cohesion or capillarity. Capillarity is the force that causes water to rise in a constricted space; the greater the constriction, the greater the rise. To further illustrate this principle, split the stem of a white carnation and place the parted stems in containers of colored water and you will find the different colors rise through the stem changing the color of the flower.
As water goes up the trunks of trees, capillary action is again at work. Without the ability of water to creep upward against the pull of gravity, the chemicals and minerals needed by plants to manufacture food would remain in the ground. Cohesion or capillarity is a phenomenon of water necessary to sustain life on earth.
In its solid state, water exhibits another phenomenon essential to life. In the days when the milkman delivered his product in a glass bottle, and it was left outside with the temperature below freezing, the milk would expand popping the bottle cap. Milk is 87 percent water. It was the water in the milk that froze and expanded. Almost any other substance, whether liquid, solid or gas will shrink in volume as its temperature goes down and as it shrinks it becomes more dense.
Water also shrinks during most of the temperature drop toward the freezing point, but below 40 degrees something amazingly different happens; it expands and gets less dense. As it freezes into a solid, it becomes still less dense until it has finally gained about nine percent in volume.
Why does ice float? This is because ice occupies more space than liquid water without weighing more. Since ice floats on the surface it acts as a layer of insulation, which protects the water beneath from further freezing. If water, like other liquids, were to become more dense when frozen, ice would sink and more ice would be formed at the surface. In the wintertime the rivers and streams would freeze and stop flowing, lakes would freeze solid and even the oceans might become a solid mass of ice. In the summer the sun’s heat would only melt a thin layer on the surface forming a shallow slush and life would have little chance for survival.
But God created the earth so it would sustain life, therefore the molecule of water had to be different than the molecule of all other substances. With the warmer temperatures of spring, ice readily melts. The melting liquid flows from higher elevations to lower elevations forming bodies of water. The heat of the sun and the water lifts water vapor up. The sun, air and the force of gravity all work together, as they have for centuries, to keep the hydrologic or water cycle going. Warm wet air is lighter than cold dry air, which causes it to rise. The clouds began as rising currents of warm air laden with moisture. Borne by prevailing winds the moist air cools as it rises higher and higher up steep mountain slopes and contracts as it cools literally squeezing out most of the moisture as refreshing rain. Raindrops wash the air absorbing carbon dioxide as they fall, returning to the soil as carbonic acid vital to plants and providing pure fresh water for animal and human life.
Three thousand years before the principles involved were discovered by modern science, the Bible described the water cycle with amazing accuracy. “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.” Ecclesiastes 1:7.
More energy is expended in the water cycle in one day than man has been able to generate throughout the course of history. This alone should make us stand in awe at the power of our God.
God’s power can also be seen in the conversion of salt water to fresh. Man has long sought for a simple inexpensive way to remove salt from seawater. Survival kits employ solar stills. They operate through a process of evaporation and condensation, a process that God has been utilizing for thousands of years. The process is referred to as desalination or desalting. These solar stills successfully make the conversion providing fresh drinking water from the undrinkable ocean.
Huge plants have been developed for converting larger amounts, but so far the cost of converting enough fresh water for even one city is comparatively expensive. However, desalination could well become our prime source of fresh water. Yet from the very beginning God has converted billions of tons of salt water to fresh every day.
We’ve considered many different things about water and its unique properties. All the evidence indicates that water possesses precise properties that make life possible. These properties were not acquired through a process of random change, but were designed into water from the very beginning by the master Designer, God Himself.
What does all this mean to you personally? Think again about how much we use water. Every day we use it in hundreds of ways. In a very personal way water means a great deal. Really it is a matter of life and death. Seventy percent of the average human body is water. You constantly lose this precious body liquid and if it is not replaced, and fairly soon, you will die. It is the water in your blood that carries it through 60,000 miles of arteries, veins and branching capillaries. Water plays a major role in the digestion of food and lubrication of joints. Mucous membranes would dry up without it and without water your eyes would cease to function. Water also regulates body heat. From the beginning of time to the present, water is supporting life on earth, your life! Water with its precise properties is God’s loving provision for our physical lives.
The formula of water is simple but it is also very special and very exact. Man did not create water and cannot change its formula, but he is absolutely dependent on it. Water has no man-made substitute. Where waters run there is life; where they do not, there is desolation and death. The Bible speaks of another kind of life, spiritual life, and reveals another kind of water—Living water. The living water is the Lord Jesus Christ. To a lonely and misunderstood sinful woman long ago Christ said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” John 4:10 NKJV.
However, just as God’s provision for man’s physical life is precise, so is His provision for man’s spiritual life precise. Just as man did not create physical water, so he cannot create spiritual water. Just as he cannot change the formula for the one, so he cannot change the formula for the other. Just as man will die physically without the one, so he will die spiritually without the other. But just as physical water is abundantly available to man, so the spiritual or living water is also and the formula is simple but the formula is special, exact and precise. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Man is confronted with an awesome alternative; he can receive the spiritual water and live or he can reject it and die. Remember, just as physical water can be yours for the drinking so the spiritual water can be yours for the asking and receiving—free, without cost. Christ’s invitation given centuries ago still stands: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. … Out of His belly shall flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37, 38.
Receive Christ now and you can experience eternal life and your spiritual life will be fully and finally satisfied. “Come … you who are thirsty; accept the water of life, a free gift to all who desire it.” Revelation 22:17 NEB.
A Moody Institute of Science Presentation, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois.