The craze to know the secrets held by your DNA has hit home. One of my daughters expressed a Christmas wish for the popular kit that promises the answers to the riddles of your heredity. The instructions direct you to spit into a tube and then mail your specimen to the testing facility. In six weeks or so, you receive a report detailing the percentages of the various ethnicities and nationalities revealed therein. Because my daughter hoped so much for this gift, she received one company’s kit from her parents and another brand from her fiancé. She has sent her samples off for analysis, and the results are certain to fascinate. I am curious to see if the results from the two competitors match each other.
The DNA’s revelation may surprise us: I know a woman who thought she was of pure Danish heritage all her life. She sent her tube off in the mail and discovered that less than half of her DNA hails from Denmark. Apparently, she has ancestors from other European nations, as well as some Jewish blood that she knew nothing about until now. Does this change her life in any way? I don’t know her well enough to find out. But I imagine that results like these would make you wonder if someone high in the branches of the family tree was adopted, or if some great-great-grandmother had an amorous tryst of which she never spoke. It’s the stuff of novels.
Your DNA is like a blueprint of your soul, which is another sacred thing that is not like anyone else’s in the world.
In a different light, another one of my daughters got into some trouble with the law last summer. She has given me permission to write about the terrible night when, in an alcohol-induced blackout, she attacked the police officers who she thought were abducting her, and fought so hard that she damaged the backseat of their vehicle. As part of her plea deal—she did do what they said, after all, even if she barely remembers it—she was required to surrender a DNA sample that the government will keep on file. Suddenly, DNA was no longer that obscure double-helix-thing that most of us didn’t really get in biology class. Now it was evidence. Now it was cutting-edge proof of innocence or guilt. DNA was the basis for overturning many wrongful convictions, as well as for tracking the culprits responsible for cases long gone cold. DNA was a synonym for justice.
For my daughter, the state took something so personal from her that it felt like a violation. She had made admirable progress from a psychological break to a sane and sober person in the months between her arrest and her guilty plea, but the taking of the DNA sample knocked her sideways. Now she was a slide in the system. Now the essence of her unique humanity was part of a police line-up.
The contrast between my daughters’ situations couldn’t be starker, and the juxtaposition of these brushes with DNA in the family this January has prompted compelling thought. It is one thing to volunteer to give your DNA to a research project, and quite another to surrender it as part of a mandated restitution. One is an ancestral lark, and one is a legal consequence, but both involve giving away a tiny, intimate bit of yourself.
Could something as astounding as our DNA have come from anywhere else but a loving Creator?
Because your DNA is yours and yours alone. Your DNA is like a blueprint of your soul, which is another sacred thing that is not like anyone else’s in the world. Your DNA traces your history and your future, because it determines who you came from and who you will create. It is a miracle of life. God is in the microscopic details, in the meeting of egg and sperm in the particular way that could only have led to you. DNA is a kind of holy ground.
I am not scientifically inclined, but if I were, I can imagine that the wonder of each strand of DNA, of the intricacy of the 23 pairs of chromosomes that equals only me, would point to the existence of God. Could something as astounding as our DNA have come from anywhere else but a loving Creator? “Before I formed you in the womb,” says the God of Jeremiah, “I knew you.”
God knows us perfectly, in all our messy, broke-the-mold glory. Scientists may decode the human genome, but mothers decode their children’s hearts. No matter the circumstances, whether we seal our spit into a prepaid mailer or swab our cheeks in the presence of a police officer, we can embrace the mystery of God’s fierce attention to each one of us. I pray my daughters do, too.