Friday, August 16, 2013

The Gospel of Nitrogen

The Gospel of Nitrogen

Everything is made of molecules.  Some are small and others bigger.  Some are simple and others complex.  Proteins are very large and complex molecules.  Proteins are made out of smaller molecules called amino acids, and Nitrogen is an important part of all amino acids.  However, nitrogen as a part of an amino acid is an atom.  All molecules are made out of atoms. Other molecules that contain nitrogen are all nucleic acids (which provide energy and genetic information), and most plant pigments involved in photosynthesis.  Which implies that plants need lots of nitrogen.    The most common component of plant fertilizers is in fact one of two forms of nitrogen - nitrate (NO3-) or ammonium (NH4+) ions—both usable forms of nitrogen for plants.

With a concentration of about 78 percent, nitrogen gas comprises the largest component of earth's atmosphere. It has at least a million times more nitrogen than found in all living systems combined. The bad news is that all of this atmospheric nitrogen consists of molecules of N2 — that is, two atoms of nitrogen bound tightly together by, what chemists call, three strong covalent bonds.  Unfortunately, it takes a great deal of energy to break the triple bond.  Because plants can't use molecular nitrogen (N2), it has to be transformed into one of the two absorbable ions.  When you break the bonds between the molecular nitrogen, each nitrogen ion is open to attract and attach other ions and form other molecules.  So, before the nitrogen can bond with other elements like oxygen or hydrogen it has to become an ion itself.  Let us try to reiterate: the two nitrogen atoms are attracted to each other, very strongly.  Once bonded the nitrogen atoms cannot bond with anything else, unless that bond is broken.  When the bond is broken the nitrogen will have open spaces to bond with other ions.  Now, notice that the symbol for nitrate has a negative sign and the ammonium has a positive sign, this is why they are called ions and not molecules.  Both nitrate and ammonium have open spaces to bond as well. 

Back to nitrogen: it requires a lot of energy to break nitrogen's triple bond.  In His wisdom the Creator provided several ways to convert atmospheric molecular nitrogen into usable forms that will dissolve in water so that plant roots can absorb it. The immense energy of lightning easily breaks nitrogen triple bond, turning it into nitrates and washing it down in the rain of a good thunderstorm. Have you noticed how green your lawn is after a noise one rolls through? Even more important, many types of bacteria convert nitrogen from one form to another. Nitrogen-fixing bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen to the more plant-friendly ammonium ion (though it is toxic in large concentrations).  Other bacteria, called ammonifying bacteria, also create the ammonium ion, but they do it by decomposition of plant and animal matter. Check out the smell of your compost pile. It reeks of ammonia. Fortunately, another family of bacteria called nitrifying bacteria transforms the ammonium ion to the safer nitrates.  (As you might guess, the cycles are actually more complicated than what I am describing.) 

It is not uncommon for atoms in a "multi – atom" molecule to behave differently than when they were a mono-atom molecule.  As previously mentioned, the bonds in molecules of compounds are very strong.  The atoms that compose the molecules now yield to one another.  They work as one.  Whether, in ammonium or nitrate, nitrogen no longer behaves as nitrogen.  For example, water is not flammable.  But, the two elements that compose water – hydrogen and oxygen - on their own are very flammable. 

This has a spiritual application.  Let us go step by step.  Before conversion the disciples could not really bond.  Before the crucifixion they were fighting for supremacy.  That ceased after the 10 days in the upper chamber.   Luke described what happened then, "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place" (acts 2: 1).  Ellen White describes the events in the following quote,

"After Christ's ascension, His disciples--men of varied talents and capabilities--assembled in an upper chamber to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this room 'all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.' They made thorough work of repentance by confessing their own sins. Upon them was laid no burden to confess one another's sins. Settling all differences and alienations, they were of one accord, and prayed with unity of purpose for ten days, at the end of which time 'they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.'  {7MR 94.4} 

There was a definite change in them.  This was reflected in all their followers:  "Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:32, 33, NKJV). 

What happened?  When the Holy Spirit began working in them, their bond to Sin or self is broken.  It takes the powerful grace of God to do this.  Now, they have open space to bond with Christ and with each other.  Christ could not use the disciples in their natural state.  They had to become spiritual ions to be able to bond with other spiritual ions. 

So, the disciples laid aside all their personal ambitions.  Now instead of fighting, they were convicted by the Holy Spirit to die to self.  The words of Paul became a reality in them: "…be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind," and to not think more highly than he ought to think of himself (Romans 12: 2 – 3).  God is waiting for us to let the Holy Spirit do the same work in us.

Raul Diaz

Endnote: Portions of this commentary were taken from David A. Steen's book "God of Wonders" page 235.

Raul Diaz