Fingerprints and their Durability

I recently read an article from the BBC on the durability of fingerprints (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19740979). It explained how our finger prints are not only individually unique, but also extremely resilient to removal and decay. A fact that has made fingerprints one of the most essential components of forensic science for years. Some things you may not have known about fingerprints:

  • They grow back if they become worn down (even from years of regular friction).
  • They eventually grow back even if the skin is badly burned.
  • Both the top and underside of the epidermis (outer skin layer) can provide a fingerprint.
  • The dermis (inner skin layer) contains a perfect copy of the outer skin layer prints.
  • Even after death, and the outer skin layer undergoes decomposition and separates from the hand, usable fingerprints remain.
  • They are produced both genetically and by the embryo’s movements in womb – for this reason, even identical twins don’t have the same fingerprints.
  • As we grow, our fingerprints stay constant.
  • We have unique ridges, not just on fingertips, but also on our palms and on our feet.

It seems we will have a tough time avoiding our individual uniqueness. Putting aside the functionality of fingerprints for bringing criminals to justice, our possession of a physiological aspect such as this should be thought-provoking when considered alongside the concept of a creator-God.

One of the things that we people of faith do when we look out at the world around us, is to try to see if God is communicating certain messages through the things we see. Most professionals for whom “creating” is part of the job, be they artists, architects, graphic designers, programmers, or the like, often (if not always) embed something unique: a hidden message, layers of meaning, or stylistic elements, which reflect that a work is uniquely theirs. For artists, this is often reflected in a visual style. For other designers, developing things from cars to product logos, they speak through the visuals. They will almost always be able to tell you what idea or ideas their design is intended to communicate (and once this knowledge is known, it can be more readily seen in other works). For programmers, they may go so far as to include “Easter eggs” within their code creations. In ways very similar to these, if it is God who created all things, we may expect to see messages embedded (in plain view, as it were) in the natural things on earth, from the largest vistas to the intricacies of the microscopic elements of biological life. Human fingerprints provide one such example.

It is fundamental to the teachings of Jesus and the Bible that we humans are special. We are created by God and loved by Him – not just as a group, but individually. More than that, God wants to know each of us individually (Revelation 3:20)! (If you wonder why an infinite God would care that much about a tiny spec of his creation, you’re in good company – the psalmist did as well, in Psalm 8:3-4). Now if God wanted to communicate this truth about Himself to the people He created, and still maintain His desire for a faith-oriented relationship with His people (he wants sincerity after all, not slavery), doesn’t it make sense that He would speak not only through the collected recorded interactions He had with His people, but also through His physical works of creation? So how do fingerprints and their resilience provide a powerful example of a “hidden” or “embedded” message from God. Firstly, in a universe of infinite possibility for forms of life (just look at the diversity of life on this planet), there is no reason to assume individual-specific fingerprints are a biological necessity. Secondly, the nature of fingerprints perfectly resemble the biblical message of our uniqueness before God our maker – each set of fingerprints is unique, just as we are said to be to Him (Psalm 139:13-15). Thirdly, the fact that fingerprints aren’t easily erased accurately reflects the biblical description of His commitment to us: His unfailing love, and the promise to eventually bring about justice for us (or to us!), for all those who have been wronged on this earth. It seems biology and the Bible are in agreement on this one, strongly suggesting that fingerprints may be one of the “layers of meaning” that a great designer has weaved into creation – one saying that our uniqueness before Him doesn’t fade away, and neither can we do anything to change it. If we take the message to the logical end of what it means if it is a message from God, it is this: “Everything I’ve done…was for you; I want to know you, and I will not forget about you”. It is a message not just to “us”, but to “you”, individually. Of course there are rebuttals, “If He did it for me, why doesn’t He make my life perfect?” But think about the concept of a God who wants a personal relationship with each of His unique human beings (and think about the people you would like a healthy personal relationship with) –ask yourself if automatic catering to our whims, without a willingness on our part to respect the one who has the power/authority to provide the help – does this facilitate true relationship?

The story of God’s love for us and our individual uniqueness before Him as maintained in the Bible, doesn’t end here, it becomes more complex – God has more to say about where we’re at now as humans and the reconciliation He desires. After all, things didn’t go perfectly when the first humans showed up on the scene. Consequently, decay is now present in the human condition, but our fingerprints remain: intricate and enduring reminders of a God who exacted a great deal of care for His creation…for you, longing for restored relationship – and who won’t forget.

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One Response to Fingerprints and their Durability

  1. hertzsprung2012 says:

    Thanks for your pastoral reminder of God’s care for his creation. While we’re on the topic of finger prints and what they communicate, here’s a different take:
    http://twentytwowords.com/2012/11/16/artist-re-creates-famous-faces-with-a-picture-of-his-index-finger-and-photoshop/

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