Chemical Engineering and Christianity

This article is written as a personal reflection on my journey of living in two worlds of Chemical Engineering and Christianity.

Chemical Engineering is my major – many believe that it is a discipline that combines Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering, which integrates and applies the principles of sciences (physics and biology) and mathematics to solve real-world issues (e.g., climate change, food and water insecurities, energy sustainability, health crisis, etc.) in ways that are economically profitable and environmentally responsible.

By God’s grace, I have earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in the corresponding field, in the years of 2009, 2014, and 2021, respectively. It has been seventeen years now since I started my bachelor’s study. And I have been working in the areas related to chemical engineering since then, both in academia (teaching and research) and industry.

I was born in a Christian family and got baptized when I was fourteen years old. So I have been a follower of Christ for twenty one years now.

As a chemical engineer and a Christ believer, I could see some parallels between these two subjects: Chemical Engineering and Christianity. (In my previous article Understanding Chemical Engineering for Life, I have shared two essential keywords in Chemical Engineering that are very much related to our lives: process and balance). Here, there is one keyword that I would like to share from my seventeen-year-journey of living simultaneously in these two worlds, that is TRANSFORMATION (or CONVERSION).

Chemical transformation in Chemical Engineering

Chemical Engineering deals with chemical transformation of raw materials into valuable products. The raw materials are usually cheap, but the products are of high value and purity. Conversion of waste into energy (fuel) is a good example of such transformation that is made possible through chemical engineering.

In general, the driving force for this transformation process is temperature difference, which can be caused by thermal, electrical, or electromagnetic sources.

Some chemical reactions are exothermic (heat-releasing) or endothermic (heat-absorbing), which are associated with either the formation or the destruction of chemical bonds between the reacting molecules.

The presence of catalyst is essential to accelerate the primary (desired) reaction, because catalyst can lower the energy required to activate the reaction, making it possible to happen at an observable rate (i.e., kinetically favorable).

The most desirable (ideal) transformation only generates the desired product. In other words, all the reactant (raw material) can be selectively converted into the final product with 100% purity. This means there is not any secondary reaction – however, in the real world, such an ideal process is extremely rare (perhaps non-existent). Chemical reactions almost always generate by-products, therefore separation or purification process is required to remove impurities from the desired product.

Spiritual transformation in Christianity

In the same way, Christianity deals with spiritual transformation, which happens in the hearts of people. This transformation (Latin: metamorphosis, Greek: metanoia) is possible through faith in Jesus Christ, which brings about a complete change of heart.

As we believe in Jesus Christ, we are converted from darkness (death) to light (life), and the Holy Spirit continues to transform our lives to become a person He desires us to be – a new person with higher value, that is the value of His kingdom.

To accomplish this purpose, we must break our bonds with the old, sinful lifestyle, and embrace the new life in Christ with bonds of faith, hope, and love.

I believe the driving forces of Christian life are Scripture, prayer, and worship inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God. As we devote ourselves in studying the words of God, in active communication with Him, and in continuous lifestyle of praise-and-worship to Him, we allow the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and direct our lives.

The catalyst for this transformation is our trust and obedience to the Lord.

However, this spiritual transformation is a lifelong process, and only God can judge whether or not we have become the desired ‘product’ according to His intention and purpose, which is ultimately for His honor and glory.

Our part is to fully surrender our lives to Him – He may use people or circumstances to transform us through the ‘pressure’ and ‘heat’ (challenges and hardships) that will eventually make us stronger and firm in Him.

As we are being transformed, our hearts are being purified and set free from all the impurities (e.g., bitterness, worldliness, wickedness, stubbornness, etc.), so that we may become vessels for His glory.

What are the differences between the two?

In my perspective, the most notable difference between Chemical Engineering and Christianity is about the level of dedication. To the former, I am not able to dedicate myself as much as I do to the latter. In learning about Christianity, I am cultivating a love relationship with the One who loves me in the first place. In other words, in Christianity, I am learning about a Person, to love Him and to give myself to Him.

Chemical Engineering, just as many other scientific disciplines, is centered around the creation whereas Christianity revolves around the Creator, who alone is worthy of our worship and adoration.

Questions to ponder about life

Chemical engineers often talk about a better future for the world by trying to solve the real-world problems I have mentioned above. However, what if the true real-world problem is not climate change or famine or cancer?

What if the real problem is actually sin, which is the root of all problems in this world? What if greediness caused by sin is what actually causes human’s extreme level of consumption of things in this world, which unfortunately will never satisfy our deepest need and longing?

What if such greediness is what actually causes climate change, natural disaster, and health crisis in this generation? What if this hunger for power and pleasure is what has caused evil and suffering in this world? Could we simply stop wanting and consuming too much to prevent all these problems from happening again or getting worse in the future?

What if we could make a better future by wanting and doing less? What if we just need to trust that God the Creator is more powerful than humanity in taking care of this planet? What if we just need to entrust ourselves to Him, to be used by Him to accomplish His purpose in and through us? Could we just balance our needs and wants by reducing our consumption and increasing our contentment?

Chemical Engineering teaches about the importance of balance (in terms of material and energy), which essentially means zero accumulation. What if we just need to stop accumulating all the worldly things that will never truly bring us fulfillment in order to have a true happiness in life?

After all, what if our spiritual transformation is much more crucial than any physical or chemical transformation in our bodies?

May we eventually find the answer that ultimately works best, not just for us, but also for the future generation and of this planet that we all care about. (If we really do.)

As a Christian, I believe the ultimate answer is found in Jesus Christ, who is God the Creator Himself. At last, what humanity really needs is not an answer, but a Person.

I would echo what Blaise Pascal has famously said:

There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.

Blaise Pascal

Biblical references about transformation

There are many verses in the Bible about spiritual transformation – here are some of them:

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

Ezekiel 36:26, NLT

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:2, NLT

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Galatians 2:20, NKJV

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NKJV

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV

This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

Colossians 1:21-22, NLT

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9, NKJV

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

1 John 3:2-3, NKJV

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ephesians 2:10, NLT

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Philippians 2:13, NLT

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Philippians 1:6, NLT

This spiritual transformation begins at the moment we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. It is the moment of our new (spiritual) birth, in accordance to what Jesus has revealed:

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

John 3:3, NLT

I would be delighted to share another time about what it means to be born again. See you in my next post.

Vancouver, September 30 – October 1, 2022

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