The Strong Force

After college, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I experienced the chaos of a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. Everything seemed to fall apart: my close friends moved out of town, my boyfriend broke up with me, and my car broke down. And when my disability claim was denied, I had to go seven months without an income.

I remember one of the first chemistry courses I took in college began with a lesson that, as it turns out, was relevant for my life.

The lesson: the atom. The structure of the atom is fairly simple: neutral particles—neutrons—and positively-charged protons reside in the atom’s nucleus. Negatively-charged electrons orbit around the atom’s perimeter. But what holds the atom together is perplexing.

The opposite charges of protons and electrons help maintain the atom’s structure. The repulsion pushes the protons into the center, and forces the electrons away from the nucleus. But what keeps neutrons in the nucleus? There’s no opposite charge keeping them there. And the electrons could theoretically pull the neutrons out of the center and disintegrate the structure of the atom.

When I raised this question to my professor, he shrugged: “No one really knows. Scientists have concluded that there must be something in the nucleus that keeps the neutrons there. They’ve nicknamed it ‘The Strong Force.’ ”

Then he shared his personal theory: “Colossians 1:17 says, ‘in Him all things hold together.’ I think it’s talking about the physical world. Look at the electrical charges—components of cells should collapse into each other and the world should fall apart, but it doesn’t. It holds together. God holds it together.”

During times of struggle, I found myself praying—often in desperation rather than devotion: “God, I would give myself to you—I would offer my life as a living sacrifice—but I’m just a pile of broken pieces. There’s nothing left of me.”

When people hear about everything that went wrong during that year of my life, they ask me how I survived so much hardship. It certainly wasn’t because I was strong enough to handle losing everything. The best explanation I have is the strong force of Colossians 1:17—“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (ESV). In Him, neutrons stay in the nucleus. In Him, atoms inexplicably maintain their structure. In Him, the universe holds together. And in Him, I remained whole—even when my life was falling to pieces.

Sarah studied medicine at Yale and journalism at Columbia. She currently lives, works, and writes in Portland, Oregon. You can find her online at mytropicofcancer.wordpress.com.

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