Five specks of flour

Five specks of flour

In my forthcoming book, I include a section that talks about how we can see God’s glory wherever we look. Typically when someone says that we think of the splendour of a sunset, the majesty of the ocean, the miracle of spring. But I try to make the case for finding it wherever we look: the miracle of a pencil, a piano or a pot noodle. Just recently I saw it in a kilogram weight.

An email from the Science Museum, of all places, had alerted me to the fact that scientists were messing about with what we thought we knew, again, and on May 20th they were instituting a new definition of a kilogram. So if your baking has been a bit off for the past week, blame it on science!

Here’s how the magazine Scientific American explains it:

The official object that defines the mass of a kilogram is a tiny, 139-year-old cylinder of platinum and iridium that resides in a triple-locked vault near Paris. Because it is so important, scientists almost never take it out; instead they use copies called working standards. But the last time they did inspect the real kilogram, they found it is roughly five parts in 100 million heavier than all the working standards, which have been leaving behind a few atoms of metal every time they are put on scales.

Isn’t that amazing?

To put it in perspective, I googled ‘How many specks of flour in 1kg?’ and managed to find some bloke who has calculated that, depending on the type and fineness of the flour, there are about 100 million. So your supermarket has been cheating you out of around five specks of flour per bag. That’s not going to make much difference to your average Victoria Sponge. In fact, I’m in awe that scales exist that can detect so small an amount.

So why change it?

Because truth matters. That’s why we have an agreed measure in the first place. We need to know that when I buy a kilogram of flour I will get the exact same weight as you do when you buy one. No one will cheat me or show you extra favour. It’s a justice issue.

It mattered so much to God that he wrote it into his law: ‘You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt’ (Leviticus 19:35-36).

It seems a bit of a non sequitur at first: ‘Make sure your weights and measures are correct, because I am the Lord’. But he’s basing the command on his character and his identity. He is the Lord who brought them out of Egypt – out of slavery not only to the Egyptian people, but to their gods. We are shaped by what we worship, so if we worship money, we will always be seeking more of it, and seeking to hold onto it rather than pay our taxes or do good with it. If we worship attention from others, we will spend our lives seeking the limelight, pushing ourselves forward, and in consequence pushing others and their needs aside. But if we worship God, we will become honest and truthful, trustworthy and reliable, fair and just, just as he is.

In fact, we only have a concept of truth and justice because of him – he wrote it into the laws of the universe and set the hunger for it in our hearts. Animals don’t have a concept of fairness, truth or justice. And it isn’t something that we have evolved into – evolution favours injustice because it favours the beast that can get to the food quickest and fight off contenders for the best mate. It takes God to teach us to care about the wellbeing of the weaker members of our society.

So every time you weigh out ingredients to bake with, or hop on the scales, or buy pick-n-mix, and expect to get an accurate measure you are rehearsing something of God’s character: his holiness, his justice, his truthfulness.

It may not seem as though five specks in 100 million would matter that much. As I said, it’s not going to make a lot of difference to your average cake, but that’s where this story really helped me to grasp something about God’s holiness that I hadn’t previously been able to get my head around.

If you escalate it up, five parts in 100 million could make a difference – if you need 100 million bricks to build a cathedral, you don’t want to find yourself five bricks short at the top of the steeple, or if it’s 100 million miles to the planet you’re trying to land on, you don’t want to overshoot the landing pad by five miles. Accuracy matters in the big things, but we tend to think it isn’t so important in the small things. Our small sins can’t really matter to God as much as the big ones do, can they? Surely he doesn’t mind if I cut corners here or sneak a bit extra there?

But his standard is perfection.

If fallen, human scientists can understand that accuracy matters down to the smallest speck, how much more does our heavenly father want purity to the smallest degree? He is the God of minute detail – he knows every hair on your head and every grain of sand on every beach and desert in the world. He has numbered the stars and knows them each by name. He notices everything. He knew, long before the scientists did, that their weights were decreasing in size.

It is incredible to me that simply setting a weight on a scale can change that weight. And it is even more incredible that the solution is something to do with maths (you’ll have to read the Scientific American article if you want to know more about that), and that even that solution is not perfect. Somewhere out there there is a way to calculate an exact kilogram. We haven’t found it yet, but God knows it, and I think he loves watching his children learn about the incredible, beautiful, incomprehensible complexity of creation, because in doing so we’re learning about the incredible, beautiful, incomprehensible complexity of him.

And more than anything he loves watching as his children are conformed to his likeness – holy as he is holy. Not partly holy, not mostly holy, but wholly holy. When we are faithful in the small things, the unseen things, the barely-detectable things, we show that we’re growing in holiness, one speck of flour at a time.



A version of this article first appeared on the LICC Connecting with Culture blog.

Main image credit: Pixabay

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