One of the marvels of our beautiful creation is all around us—taken for granted and often unnoticed. In fact, sometimes we are looking right through it! Though incredibly common on our planet, it represents one of the most remarkable substances in the universe. What is it?
This marvel is water, and its extraordinary properties make it a fascinating indication of the intelligence and foresight of our loving Creator.
The intimate connection between life and water is prominent in scientists’ search for life beyond the earth. We send probes looking for water on Mars. We examine the spectrum of light from worlds far out into space, looking for telltale signs of water in exoplanet atmospheres. With the recent discovery of what appear to be water geysers on Jupiter’s moon Europa, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is looking at different ways to mount a space mission to send a probe or even a robotic rover to that far-off world to examine, experiment and explore.
Because scientists generally agree that the largest hope of finding life on another world is finding water, thought by most to be a virtually indispensable ingredient to life.
What makes water so special? What properties does water possess that make it such a fundamental, essential component to life on earth—to our lives?
As a substance in and of itself, water is not particularly complicated. A molecule of water is very simple and is composed of some of the most abundant elements on earth. We see this in its chemical formula: H2O—two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen.
Amazingly, hydrogen and oxygen by themselves are gases under normal Earth temperature conditions, and are highly flammable—even explosive. Yet, once combined, they form liquid water: something people reach for to put out a fire!
But while water may be simple and common, its collection of properties is far from common. In fact, the substance is, in many ways, absolutely unique—and can be considered one of the most remarkable materials in all of creation.
Consider some of the thermodynamic properties of water. Most substances expand when heated and shrink when cooled—most substances, that is, except for water! As the temperature of water drops on its way to freezing, it shrinks like most materials until it hits 4° Celsius—at which point it begins to expand! This means that, when water becomes completely frozen at 0° Celsius, it is lighter than the water around it, and it floats, unlike other materials that would simply become dense and sink!
What does this amazing quality mean for life on our planet? Because of this very unusual characteristic, our planet’s ponds, streams and lakes never freeze all the way through! Instead of a liquid simply turning into ice, as happens when many liquids freeze, ice forms on the top of the liquid water beneath it! The liquid water stays above freezing temperatures, allowing aquatic life forms to survive the cold—preserving our food chain and, with it, life on earth.
Water’s remarkable capacity to store heat energy also plays a vital role in preserving life on our planet. In summer months, Earth’s oceans and lakes absorb a vast quantity of the sun’s heat energy, storing it away and moderating global temperatures. Then, in winter, that heat energy is released back into the environment, creating the reverse effect—adding warmth in a way that prevents the winter from being too cold for life to survive.
Another vital property of water is one you will never directly observe—because it is apparently designed to be invisible! Earth’s atmosphere contains a gaseous form of water called water vapor. Nearly all of what we call “weather” involves the atmosphere’s water vapor: condensed as clouds or fog, falling as rain or hail, or whipping around us as snow. Water in the air, like other substances, absorbs light at certain wavelengths—meaning certain varieties of light are not able to pass through it. In the case of water, the blocked varieties of light are the invisible kinds we call infrared and ultraviolet. In fact, it is water’s ability to absorb ultraviolet—or UV—light that helps protect human skin from the sun’s potentially damaging UV rays.
Yet, while water vapor powerfully blocks most wavelengths, there is a narrow band of light that water allows to pass right through: the visible part of light we need to see! Every color of the rainbow can pass through water vapor unhindered, leaving the air crystal clear for our eyes to see the world around us.
Water is also one of the primary tools used by nature—wielded as a flowing river, persistent rain, or freezing ice—to wear down mountains and break up rocks, creating rich soil full of nutrients for vegetation. But, consider: How do those nutrients in the soil reach every part—every branch and every leaf—of the plants of the world? Consider the mighty California Redwoods, the tallest trees on the planet, some growing more than 100 meters high. How do the nutrients and minerals in the soil, needed to feed and sustain such giants, reach the very top, day in and day out? A tree has no heart to pump “blood,” nor is there an elevator.
Enter, once again, the power of water. Water is attracted to the materials in the roots, and the bonds between water molecules are so unusually strong that as some water “climbs” through the roots, it keeps bringing more water with it! This drawing power of water is so strong that a redwood tree—with neither muscle nor motor, neither pump nor power—can draw four tons of water every day into its leaves to be evaporated!
The list could go on and on. In its rare and one-of-a-kind properties, water demonstrates the love and care of our divinely intelligent Creator! Seemingly among the simplest of substances, H2O is far from simple. It truly is a “wonder material” that makes all life on earth possible.
Significantly, when Jesus Christ wanted to teach His audience about what God would make available to those who believed His teachings and chose the way of life He offered, He used water to picture the Holy Spirit: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”(John 7:37–38). Considering what we know about the vital role of water in our physical life, is it any wonder that Christ chose wondrous, life-enabling water as a symbol for the wondrous, life-giving Spirit of God?
We should all thank God for the wisdom with which He has designed our world and made it a perfect home for us—where even the most common substance silently declares His glory!