An interesting lesson I took away from a missions course I did late last year was that the natural realm is a general revelation, a way for God to accentuate unreached peoples to the possibility of his presence – a possibility realised in the specific revelation of Jesus Christ. I’ve been thinking about general revelation a lot lately as autumn has sped past, winter fast on her heels and kicking away the last of her leaves with cold, gusty winds. If God uses the natural world to speak to unreached peoples, then it must have something to teach us reached souls too.
So many of Jesus’ parables were rooted in everyday activities that had to do with the natural world. Harvests are a popular example Jesus uses, as is wine, water, desert, livestock, fig trees, grapevines, mustard seeds, grain, fishing, and fertile ground. Jesus was hardly a city boy. He used the cycles of the natural world to explain the cycles of God, the seen to explain the unseen.
This is echoed in our church calendar. For Northern Hemispherians, the church calendar syncs up with the natural world: Jesus born in mid-winter, a very real light in a dark and cold world, and resurrected come Easter and spring: new beginnings. But perhaps the natural world should speak to us even beyond this: nature’s cycles reinvigorating and energising, pausing and resting our spiritual lives; spring, summer and autumn our work week, winter our sabbath; or spring and summer our exodus, and autumn and winter our Canaan. We cannot always remain in the desert, spiritually speaking; at some point, we must enter our rest.
Winter isn’t an easy season for me. Some years ago I was treated for cancer, and my treatment coincided with autumn and winter. More than a decade later, the start of winter still makes me sad. For me, it’s associated with loss in a very real way, as I lost the innocence of my own mortality. Every winter makes me face that afresh. While it also means that I look joyfully to the summer because each one is one more than I had before, winter is a generally a stunted time for me, and I often spend it struggling to seek God.
But God’s general revelation reminds me of the mercy of his specific revelation. I look at the world around me: the dry and withered grass, often burned black; the cold, cutting wind herding people indoors; the bright, clear sky peeking curiously through the spread fingers of bare tree branches; choked plants in dry, infertile-looking soil. And I remember summer: how green and lush everything is, trees twice their size clothed in foliage, earth wet with rain and sweet with petrichor, white clouds rolling across a hazy sky, flower heads drooping and stirring in hot breezes. And then I remember a cross and an empty tomb…
Rather than feel guilty about my perceived lapse of faith during this time, I might more productively spend my time being enriched by Jesus in order that I may grow better and stronger come the spring and summer months. This isn’t death, sweet soul, it’s the moment before resurrection…
It’s a good moment.