Winter and the presence of God

Santa-Catalinas

A gray ooze has devoured the horizon and wrapped the sky in a damp, claustrophobic dreariness. The sun has been swallowed up; beneath a tinplate damp life shivers, slapping arms and stamping feet to stay warm. A monochromatic twilight robs the desert of its color, while an icy wind rips the last few leaves from barren branches.

Southern Arizona is in the midst of its first winter storm of the season, and snow is predicted, something many of us would welcome even as the rest of the country groans and digs out from beneath windblown drifts. Snow rarely falls at this latitude, and when it does, it only lasts a few hours before the sun melts it away.

Now, 24 hours later, after a bitter cold night, the morning sky has turned blue and most of the remaining traces of yesterday’s snowfall have vanished. The mountains are white with the beginning of their winter snow pack, which will last into the spring, slowly releasing water into creeks and streams to feed the new growth of a promised spring many cold months from now.

The hard truth is that those dreary winter storms make spring’s rebirth possible. We never live very long beneath sunny skies before howling wind, driving rain and freezing darkness closes in and make us wonder if spring will ever return.

God always seems distant in winter. But in the theology of Christianity, he is every bit as present with us in the unending and gloomy deep-freeze of winter as on a balmy spring morning. He is equally present, equally faithful, equally engaged, equally trustworthy during the howling storm and its blue-sky aftermath.

Both the harshness of winter and the delights of spring occur within the context of God’s permissive authority over all of creation. As such, they both bow to his will and serve his greater purposes. The Scriptures talk about the far-reaching goodness of God to his people in Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. — Romans 8:28, NLT

In the bleak winters where life seems to have fled, God is still present and at work. In the difficult trials where life hangs in the balance, God hears our prayers and comes alongside us.

The clouds have hidden the sun again and enveloped the nearby mountains. The mercury has not climbed above the freezing mark and a bitter chill is boring through the walls. A silent shower of snow falls again on the peaks and buries everything, living and dead, in a thick, winter cocoon.

Faith is always more difficult when the evidence of our senses leads us to conclude that God is far away. But God is still near, still listening, still at work accomplishing his good purposes, even when the earth is frozen beneath a leaden sky. Our hope, our joy, our courage to live is not built on the future promise of spring, but on the very immediate presence of a loving Father who stands beside us, arms wrapped around us, even as the harsh winter winds howl.

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! A river brings joy to the city of our God, the sacred home of the Most High. God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed. From the very break of day, God will protect it. — Psalm 46:1-5, NLT

Even in the bleakness of the winter, God is present and working out his good purposes.

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