The God of snow and northern lightsWritten by Subby Szterszky
What's inside this article
The dead of winter: It’s a poetic phrase that captures something of the love-hate relationship many of us have with the season, particularly here in Canada. It conjures images of brittle cold, bleak snowy landscapes, fleeting days and long, dark nights. It creates a yearning for the rebirth of spring and the bright vitality of summer. For some people, it can lead to feelings so deep and blue that medical aid becomes necessary.
At the same time, it’s difficult to deny winter’s craggy, awful beauty: inhospitable perhaps, even dangerous, and yet beauty nonetheless. As believers, how do we reconcile this apparent dichotomy? Is winter an undesirable by-product of a fallen world, or is it a good gift from the Father of lights above?
Winter in the Scriptures
It may come as a surprise how often the Bible mentions winter and snow. After all, most of the books of Scripture were written in the Ancient Near East, in a region not associated with extreme cold weather. And yet, an online word search of the ESV Bible yields 15 occurrences of “winter” and 24 of “snow,” as well as four of “ice,” six of “frost” and two of “frozen.”
The earliest of these references occurs right after Noah’s flood when God promises to never again destroy the world with water:
“I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22)
God, then, is the author and maintainer of all seasons, whether pleasant or less so. The Psalmist Asaph echoes this when he writes:
“Yours is the day, Yours also the night; You have established the heavenly lights and the sun. You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; You have made summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:16-17)
When it comes to snow and ice imagery, however, the book of Job takes pride of place:
“God thunders wondrously with His voice; He does great things that we cannot comprehend. For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ likewise to the downpour, His mighty downpour.” (Job 37:5-6)
“By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast. He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter His lightning. They turn around and around by His guidance, to accomplish all that He commands them on the face of the habitable world. Whether for correction or for His land or for love, He causes it to happen.” (Job 37:10-13)
“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?” (Job 38:22-23)
“From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven? The waters become hard like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.” (Job 38:29-30)
And once again, the Psalmist sums up God’s control over the harshest climatic conditions:
“He gives snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down His crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold?” (Psalm 147:16-17)
Winter evokes God’s beauty and power
These verses and others like them, written millennia ago, offer poetic yet remarkably apt descriptions of weather patterns, the water cycle and their impact on the earth.
But of course, they do far more than that. The chief purpose of these images, as with all of creation, is to portray some facet of the glory of God. Such wintry snapshots evoke a sense of gratitude for the Creator’s finely tuned providence as well as a thoroughly appropriate fear of His majestic power. To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, they reveal something of “the kindness and the severity of God.” (Romans 11:22)
They also demonstrate that beauty isn’t always soft and gentle; it can be hard-edged and rough-hewn and even deadly if not approached with wisdom and respect.
A quest to see the northern lights
Nevertheless, this terrible beauty has compelled people throughout history to seek it out, even in the world’s most inhospitable regions. A documentary on the Discovery Channel from a few years ago chronicled one such quest. It followed British actress Joanna Lumley to the northernmost reaches of Norway as she sought to fulfill a lifelong dream to see the northern lights.
On the way, she spoke with locals who told her that her chances of seeing the lights were slim, as the conditions had to be just right. She interviewed a scientist who explained that it was a stream of charged particles from the sun – the so-called solar wind – striking the earth’s magnetic field that created the atmospheric phenomenon.
Undaunted by this prosaic description, Lumley was increasingly moved by the quiet grandeur of her frigid surroundings, so incongruous with their basic hostile nature. She noted how the arctic light made the landscape appear clear and sharp, its colours exceptionally vibrant.
In the end and against all odds, under a cold night sky she finally witnessed the shimmering curtain of the aurora borealis. She fell to her knees in the crisp snow and sobbed, face turned to the heavens, and whispered “thank you” over and over again.
It was a genuine, unscripted moment, and yet bittersweet for all that. Lumley’s gratitude didn’t seem to be directed at anyone in particular. She apparently wasn’t aware that it was God who had created this wonderful iridescent display and had arranged the circumstances for her to experience and enjoy it.
The heavens declare the glory of God
According to King David, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)
When we read these words, we naturally think of the distant heavens: sun and moon, stars and galaxies. But they point just as surely to the nearer heavens: clouds and snow and northern lights.
The dead of winter: The expression itself speaks of death, of the fall of humanity and the curse that followed, of a world no longer ideally suited for life. But winter also anticipates the spring, as inevitable as sun melting snow, light overcoming darkness and life triumphing over death.
In the meantime, there’s that undeniable cold beauty, reflecting in its own way the power and providence of God. It’s a beauty that insists – sometimes quite stridently – that God orchestrates all things, both pleasant and hard, for the good of His creation and the glory of His name.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2015 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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