“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

That verse is part of the covenant God made with Noah after the Flood, a promise he would never again destroy all life on Earth via a watery deluge. Like the sign of the rainbow, the cycle of the seasons testifies that God will preserve and redeem his created order, despite the ongoing sinfulness of humanity.

Chances are most of us don’t think of the seasons that way. We have our favourites and our non-favourites, we welcome or bemoan their change as the case may be. But we don’t visualize seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, or day and night in terms of their covenantal symbolism.

Still we may wonder: Why did God make seasons the way he did in the first place? Since he designed all creation to reflect some facet of his glory, what do the seasonal contrasts reveal about his character and purposes?

Change and permanence

On the face of it, change and permanence appear to be complementary but mutually exclusive concepts, like light and darkness or war and peace. By definition, change is impermanent and permanence is unchanging. Trying to reconcile the two creates a sense of paradox and mystery.

God cloaks himself in mystery while also revealing himself through it, in ways the human mind can’t fully grasp. He exists as one God in three persons, each person discrete and coequal, yet all one God. Via the Incarnation, the second person of the Trinity became fully human as well as being fully divine, the two natures coexisting unmingled in one man. Beyond that, God inhabits eternity, which is of necessity permanent, but he also thinks and wills and acts, which all require change of some sort.

It’s no wonder he has woven something of this change-permanence duality into his creation in the form of the seasons, and that he has wired humanity to appreciate it. C.S. Lewis teased this out through the words of Screwtape in his book, The Screwtape Letters:

The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy [God] (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.

Death and rebirth

The entire scope of history, from the beginning of time to its end, can be understood as a grand narrative of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. In contemporary terms, one could think of it as a widescreen epic whose author and director is God. The four chapters or acts of that screenplay give the story (and all of history) its shape: life created at the beginning, perfect and good, but then tainted and destroyed by death due to sin, yet in the end redeemed and remade far better than at the start, never to die again.

This essential narrative flow has informed most of the stories people have told since the beginning. It may be boy meets girl, loses her, and reunites with her to live happily ever after. Or it may be girl leaves home, encounters enemies and hardships, and triumphs over them in the end. But the broad pattern of an initial happy state followed by a series of reversals that are turned into a final resolution or victory – life, death and rebirth – lies at the heart of our favourite stories. It’s what gives them their power and appeal, their ability to spark the imagination and convey truth.

God has inscribed this same narrative structure onto the wider canvas of the natural world. Although the seasons don’t line up in perfect parallel with the four acts of the grand narrative, they echo its plotline via their own annual cycle of life, death and rebirth. Vibrant flourishing life under the summer sun gives way to the fall. Plants wither, animals hibernate and humans huddle through the cold dead of winter. And the world waits with eagerness for the fresh rebirth of another spring. The cycle never concludes, but remains a universal reminder of the ultimate story God is crafting for his creation.

Kindness and severity

The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Rome to note the kindness as well as the severity of God (Romans 11:22). A faithful view of God will always take into account both his love and his justice in proper measure. To downplay or ignore either trait is to create an idol from our imagination.

Thankfully God has designed the pleasantness of summer and the harshness of winter to be constant, concrete reminders of these two aspects of his character. There is of course a lot of variation in the length and nature of seasons around the globe. But in broad strokes, summer is a time of sun and warmth, of blue skies and ease and vitality, while winter is marked by cold and dreariness and dormancy. While there are exceptions, it’s safe to say more people celebrate summer and bemoan winter than the other way around.

At the same time, summers can be harsh and dry, by turns bringing scorching heat or withering humidity. And winters can be quiet, clear and peaceful, sheltering the seeds of new life under blankets of snow. Taken as a whole, the seasonal contrasts make a powerful case that beauty appears in many forms, both pleasant and fierce. They point to a God who is glorious and beautiful, as much in his severity as in his kindness, working out his good purposes through the least expected means.

Abundance and need

It can be difficult for modern people in Western urban society to think of the seasons in terms of abundance and need. After all, we can head to the supermarket any day of the year (except maybe Christmas) and pick up pretty much anything we want. We take for granted the constant supply of an endless variety of food, drink and other goods.

However in most cultures past and present, the changing seasons bring with them an annual cycle of plenty and want. There’s a time to plant and a time to harvest, a time to lay up goods for the coming lean months when nothing will grow. Such a cycle makes it hard to take anything for granted, leading instead to occasions of commemoration and celebration. In the Old Testament, these critical times of the year were connected to a series of feasts, through which the people of God expressed their gratitude and ongoing dependence on him for their livelihood.

In a fallen world, it’s easy to forget God in the midst of prosperity and to grumble against him when enduring hardship. But the rhythm of the seasons teaches a different lesson. It declares that God is the author of both abundance and need, the one who gives all good things to his creatures and the one who withholds them, as he sees fit. The seasonal cycle broadcasts a repeating call to delight in God and to trust him, whether the fridge and the cupboards are full or empty.

Unity and diversity

One of the most sublime yet ubiquitous mysteries God has written into his cosmos is his love of unity expressed through diversity. Like all mysteries of creation, it finds its source in God’s own being. The Trinity is one in essence and purpose, and yet the three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – have diverse roles and functions, while still sharing a perfect, harmonious relationship among themselves.

This paradox of unity in diversity is evident everywhere in the created order. God’s own Word is a collection of 66 documents, written over a span of 1,500 years in three different languages – Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek – in lands stretching from Rome to Egypt to Persia. Its human authors came from every walk of life: shepherds, fishermen, physicians, scholars and kings. They wrote in a variety of genres, including history, law codes, genealogies, autobiography, love poetry, apocalyptic visions, songs and letters. Each of them spoke in his or her unique style and voice, addressing the issues of their day. Yet their writings were all inspired by the same God and form parts of one overarching story – creation, fall, redemption and restoration, through the work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

All of nature – from snowflakes to stars to human beings – resounds with this same sense of unity expressed through diversity. The universe is teeming with millions upon millions of variations on themes – species of plants and animals, subatomic particles, mathematical ratios, colours, sounds, ideas, human body types and personalities – yet they’re all parts of one unified, organic whole. The complexity, to say nothing of the beauty and wisdom behind it, boggles the imagination.

The seasons speak this language of unity and diversity, but they do so in the most direct terms even a small child can appreciate. The warmth of summer, the colours of fall, the cold of winter and the scent of spring all unite to create a rhythmic, repeating pattern of change. Beyond being an emblem of God’s promise to Noah, this pattern is a token of his faithful, multi-faceted goodness to all his creatures. Most of all, it offers concrete evidence of God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine character, written for everyone to see in the book of nature (Romans 1:20).

Change and permanence. Death and rebirth. Kindness and severity. Abundance and need. Unity and diversity. God loves contrast and mystery, expresses his nature through them and is glorified in them. We may stumble at the paradoxes, but God has encoded them into his cosmos in images we can comprehend. And none of these pictures is more accessible than the shared, universal experience of the seasons.

Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2018 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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