January 10, 2018

Winter is Waiting

What's your favorite season? I can make a lengthy and persuasive argument for fall or spring--take your pick--and summer, too, if there is a beach vacation planned and money to spare. But winter? The occasional snowfall (where I live at least) is wondrous for the day but typically turns gray and frozen solid much too quickly. Along with winter comes cozy fires in the fireplace, and that is most definitely to winter's advantage, but winter is so sullen and overcast, bare and colorless to be my favorite. In winter, I spend an inordinate amount of time holed up in my home under a blanket, guzzling hot coffee, and longing for spring's arrival.

Favorite or not, winter is important. God would not have designed it into the earth's framework if it were not so. Agriculturally speaking, in winter there is a world of motion happening beneath the surface. Freezing temperatures kill pests that would otherwise eliminate a crop. Plants and seeds "sleep" in dormancy, storing energy that enable their growth come spring. In winter, despite what we see with our eyes, the earth is busy creating life. We only know this is so because spring eventually comes, and then we marvel at what that life looks like.

Is it possible that God designed winter and the earthly cycle of life, death, and renewal in order to speak a deeper truth? I believe, because the Bible says it's so, that everything in creation is designed speech about its Creator. Just as we find him on warm summer days, standing in the sand, listening to the waves crash against the shore, we find him in the stillness of winter.
But winter often speaks of a barrenness we don't want to hear about. Yuval Noah Harari, author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, says that humanity is driven by a quest for immortality, pleasure, and divine-like supernatural capacity. In other words, we seek God, but we seek him in all the wrong places. We seek to be God rather than worship him, because when it comes down to it, we want a life with no winters. We want to redesign what God has set in motion.

Annie Dillard writes, "All that summer conceals, winter reveals." And so we need a life with winters, because we need our hearts revealed. Winter comes to strip us bare of our delusions, to make us face reality: we have imperfections that we can't perfect. We are helpless to find a formula to reason or act our way out of our helplessness. We are human, and we, in our barrenness, must be acted upon if we're to experience eternal life, joy, and the supernatural.

Winter then, after stripping us bare, points us to the invisible motion as if in invitation to these very things: life is happening. God is at work, acting upon us. Jesus came to show us how: God's work is resurrecting life from death. Jesus's dead heart restarting was sudden spring after a long winter, but then, having tasted the beauty and wonder of spring, the world was suddenly plunged back into the cold waiting once more.

The harshness of our waiting winter tells us that this world has nothing for us and that we have nothing for ourselves. We have this hope--one, and only one--that there is life waiting for us beyond death.

Although we are not yet in that world, we have reasons for our hope: the words of God. With words, he formed the earth and its seasons and cycles. With words, he continues creating. We can trust his words. In our winter, we must draw ourselves under the warm blanket of God's promises, a sure comfort in the darkest of hours. I particularly love when God combines his Word with something tangible, something I can look at and hold in my hands, which is what he did with Jeremiah:
"And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'Jeremiah, what do you see? And I said, 'I see an almond branch.' Then the Lord said to me, 'You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.'" (1:11)
In Jerusalem, the almond tree, the first to bud in the spring, was said to "watch for spring." God used the almond branch to comfort Jeremiah in his lamentable circumstances. The almond branch was a reminder that God is always in process of keeping his promises, that he is, at this very moment, hurtling all of us toward eternal spring. He pointed to the almond branch--the coming of spring--and told Jeremiah to watch and wait.

We too watch and wait, not in fear of this winter in which we live, nor in fear of our own spiritual poverty or even final death. We watch and wait, comforted, because all of this God is right now working for our true life, when winter will forever turn to spring.
Friends, my new book, Searching For Spring: How God Makes All Things Beautiful in Time, frames the life of faith according to the seasons and according to Ecclesiastes 3:11: "God has made everything beautiful in its time." If you are in need of a little hope and a little firming up of your faith, this book's for you! I'll be sharing preorder treats next week and soon will be introducing a podcast in which I interview folks who are waiting well by faith. Look for all of these exciting things in the coming days!