Helping my son in Year 10 with his Science homework can be a bit of a brain strain for an ageing parent! But he recently pointed something out to me I thought was quite beautiful. It has to do with the way our skin protects us from the dangerous radiation of the sun.
The pigment that gives your skin its colour is a chemical called melanin. The cells in your skin that make melanin are called melanocytes or pigment cells. Built in to this system is a parable of our salvation…
You see, when you are exposed to ultraviolet light, when you spend a day at the beach without sunscreen for example, the ultraviolet radiation damages your skin cells. Especially, it breaks down the DNA inside them, the genetic “machinery” that runs every cell in our bodies. Now DNA is made up of number of smaller molecules, the ‘bricks’ as it were from which it is constructed. When the UV radiation breaks it down, the bricks get scattered about. One of those bricks is a chemical called Thymine (this is different to the vitamin called Thiamine).
There are many things that can stimulate a pigment cell to make more melanin, and guess what? One of them is Thymine! So when the scattered Thymine meets the pigment cell, it switches on the melanin factory, and melanin production is speeded up. This melanin is transported up nearer the surface of the skin where it acts as a shield against UV light (that’s why dark skinned people hardly ever get sunburnt – they have heaps of melanin in their skin). The skin gets darker, you get a suntan, and the rest of the skin cells are protected from the lethal UV radiation.
So in essence, the dying skin cell, the one destroyed by the UV radiation, gave its life in order to save the rest of its fellows from suffering the same fate.
Isn’t that a beautiful parable of the love that Jesus showed us in dying for us that we might not suffer eternal death? Isn’t it a beautiful illustration of the kind of love that the Christian should live every day, sacrificing him/herself for others? And it’s built right into us.
Dare I say … it is a message that really gets under your skin …