I think I lost my appreciation for science while dissecting a cow’s eyeball in biology class. As I examined the bovine remains under a microscope, I saw my loathing for science magnified somewhere underneath the vitreous humor, the jelly-like substance of the eye. My teacher tried to tell me that it was just like grape jelly, but he really just ruined my ability to eat PB&J sandwiches for years. It wasn’t until I had children that I could get excited again about studying science. Their infectious curiosity has me back in the lab again, although this time, I’m studying in the laboratory of God. After a recent snowstorm, I gained more understanding and wisdom from observing His creation than I ever could behind the microscope in my high school.

They say that no two snowflakes are ever alike. Skeptics might ask, “Who are ‘they,’ and how do they know for sure?” But more importantly, why didn’t I think of making a vocation out of studying snowflakes? Where was that guy, the snowflakeologist, on Career Day? Who would have thought that snowflake physics could be so complex. I imagined a lab with a bunch of guys folding white construction paper over and over again and cutting out snowflakes with safety scissors. After reading some research by physicists, however, my mind is boggled by the awesome power of God.

Psalm 147:15-18
(15) He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
(16) He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes.
(17) He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast?
(18) He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.

It’s amazing how much smaller we feel when we put God’s creation under a microscope. The number of possible ways for making a complex snowflake is beyond our imagination. A typical small snow crystal contains 1018 water molecules, which are arbitrarily spread throughout the crystal, giving it a distinctive design. [1] As one scientist summarized,

“… it’s unlikely that any two complex snow crystals, out of all those made over the entire history of the planet, have ever looked completely alike.” [2]

In his poem, “The Snow-Storm,” [3] Ralph Waldo Emerson described the scene left by the snow as the work of “the fierce artificer (craftsman),” who “curves his white bastions with projected roof round every windward stake, or tree, or door.” Of course, Emerson wrote this long before snowplows started blocking people into their driveways and sand trucks turned pristine white snow into massive piles of fudge swirl ice cream. In order to capture the glory of God’s creation, you have to witness it early in the morning, before man can adulterate it. When sunlight sparkles on the virgin snow and ice, covering every crevice of nature on the morning after a snowstorm, it creates a beauty unparalleled by any artist. How can anyone look out on such a sight and not be completely humbled by God’s wisdom and might?

Job 37:5-12
(5) God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.
(6) He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’
(7) So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labor.
(8) The animals take cover; they remain in their dens.
(9) The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds.
(10) The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen.
(11) He loads the clouds with moisture; he scatters his lightning through them.
(12) At his direction they swirl around over the face of the whole earth to do whatever he commands them.

Why is it that the older we get, the less we like snow? During my youth, snow was enchanting, but somewhere along the way, it lost its charm. I’m not certain, but I think it happened somewhere between enjoying a day off from school and scraping the glacier off of the car in subzero temperatures to get to work. Regardless of its exact origin, you start as a child trying to be King of the Hill on top of the tallest snow pile, and you end up later in life trying to find the tallest mountain of mashed potatoes at an air-conditioned restaurant in Florida.

Our kids look at snow and think about sledding and snowmen and all kinds of winter fun. They don’t think about how much work it takes to bundle up and go outside to clear off the driveway and walkways. Even the arrival of the first few flakes brings a high level of excitement. The world looks completely new to them, which makes me wonder what God was trying to tell us with His creation of snow.

Why did God give us snow? A simple question by my five year old prompted a flood of childhood memories that helped me recapture the magic of snow. I can remember when I was a child, escaping outside into the dark abyss of a winter night. As I exhaled, I watched my breath form icy clouds that hung in mid-air. My senses came alive with raw cheeks, chapped lips, and the intoxicating smell of wool and mothballs as I breathed through my scarf. My mittens could never quite keep the tips of my fingers from freezing, so I used to curl my hands into a ball just to keep them warm. It was so hard to move with all those layers: sweater, coat, snowpants, scarf, mittens, and the hat that would later make my hair stand on end as static sent fireworks of electricity through the air.

It was the sounds that I loved. Snow pants smacking together sounded even better than corduroys. Boots crunched loudly on the hardened snow. I even loved the sound of silence, the fact that no matter how hard it was snowing, it was utterly and completely quiet. Lying on my back in the snow, I would gaze up at the darkness punctured by millions of twinkling stars. For a brief moment, I forgot all about fingertips, mothballs, and static. Losing myself in the vastness of the universe, I flapped the wings of my coat, made angels in the snow, and sent them up to Heaven in my mind.

When I was a child, I always thought it was the being outside part that I loved. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what it really was–the big, familiar house that loomed behind me, warm light softly radiating through the windows. Even though I wasn’t looking at the house, I always felt its presence. It was letting me know that everything was safe…that I was safe. I would never have to be too cold for long. Soon the wet socks would come off, my hair would lose its static, and my face would tingle with burning numbness. Soon I would be scorching my tongue on hot chocolate, which would ruin the taste of food for a week, but I didn’t care. I would be laughing into the crackling fire that was too hot but too comforting to move away from anyway. I would be telling stories about my lopsided snowman and how it was snowing so hard there probably wouldn’t be school tomorrow. It was everything on the inside that made the outside worthwhile.

As we get older, we tend to forget about the inside and focus on the outside, as in how cold we feel as we’re scraping and shoveling the snow and ice. Maybe I need to come out from my electric blanket long enough to appreciate the positive aspects of snow. Snow purifies all that it covers, much like God has purified us by the sacrifice of His son. After David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he pleaded with God to cleanse his sins in this manner:

Psalm 51:7
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Only through the death and resurrection of Jesus can anyone be truly purified. Blood is perhaps the most challenging of all stains to remove, yet Isaiah prophesied of how even the blood-red stains of our sins would one day be cleansed:

Isaiah 1:18
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

As we shovel and scrape, perhaps we should think about what this symbolizes. God has cleansed our sins, leaving us as spiritually white as if we were covered by a deep blanket of snow, and underneath that covering lies newness of life. And as we watch the silent sifting of snow from the clouds, we should remember that every snowflake is unique, much like we are in the eyes of God. Just as each snow crystal contains innumerable design possibilities, every human being throughout history has been given a unique fingerprint. With so many profound messages in one tiny flake, I think I’ll keep my microscope on the world for a while longer. Maybe science isn’t so bad after all.


[1] http://www.its.caltech.edu/~atomic/snowcrystals/alike/alike.html
[2] Ibid.
[3] From: Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Early Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York, Boston, Thomas Y. Crowell & Company: 1899.

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