How we view the world depends on what we believe. Whether we put our faith in there being a God or in there not being a God is a choice that acts like spectacles: it affects – or should affect – how we view the world. So where the atheist sees in an event only the blind, careless action of Nature (whatever he, she or it is), the believer sees deeper, finding a God-given meaning and purpose. Where the atheist notes beauty or complexity in the natural world but sees in it nothing more than the product of chance and time, the believer sees in it God’s care and wisdom. In reality many people who claim to be ‘unbelievers’ wear what you might call mental bifocals; faced with joy, beauty or tragedy in life they shift to focus through the lens of faith and inconsistently treat such things as having meaning and purpose. So even the most hardened atheist will, when cradling their newborn baby, move from a viewpoint which sees birth as simply the successful reproduction of the species to one of mystical wonder and gratefulness.
This different perspective on life applies strongly with the arrival of spring, a season that, although cruelly postponed this year, will be with us in weeks. (If you are south of the equator and observing summer now sliding into autumn, accept my apologies and consider putting this blog aside for six months.) For the consistent atheist, spring is nothing more than the inevitable product of a planet with a tilted axis: there must be seasons. Coldly, logically, spring is really just applied astronomy or practical physics. And nothing more than that.
Yet of course we all feel that there’s more to spring than that. There is – in the most reverent of senses – a magic to the season. Mysteriously, inexplicably, unstoppably, the world wakes up and we, in turn, become more alive with it. Spring lifts the spirit and cheers up the dullest and most depressed soul. To eyes that see through the spectacles of faith there is much more here than simply a change of season. We can see deeper and let me suggest three thoughts of my own to stimulate your thinking.
First, spring speaks of the triumph of light over darkness. Slowly but inexorably, the days have grown longer. Daylight of some sort now occurs through much of our waking day: we open curtains earlier and close them later as winter’s all enveloping gloom slips away. We who trust in the One who put the stars in place see beyond astronomy and rejoice that we see light triumphing over darkness. In the great passage at the start of John’s Gospel that deals with the coming of Christ we read in verse 5 that ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’. Spring is a visual reminder of the truth – much-needed these days – that, ultimately, light wins.
Second, spring is the triumph of life over death. Winter landscapes, full of dreary greys and browns, seem devoid of life. Spring suddenly brings to the natural world what can only be called a resurrection, with death replaced by life. We who know and love the story of Jesus see a deep echo here of the promise, sealed by the resurrection, that one day death’s reign will end.
Finally, spring is the triumph of hope over despair. I accept that winter has its fans amongst skiers, snowboarders and those sensitive to sunlight. Yet for most of us there is something gloomy about winter; particularly those grey, damp, sunless days that are such a feature of the British Isles. Indeed if you are unfortunate enough to suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) winter is, in a real sense, depressing. Spring, however, opens the curtains on life; it is the season where moods lighten, gloom lifts and hope dawns. To me spring echoes the experience of many when they come to faith in Christ; the clouds part, the sun shines and hope gleams in the darkest of lives. For those of us who live north of the equator there is something truly significant in the fact that Easter – the festival of resurrection – occurred in spring.
I love spring. I love what it is, but I love still more what I see in it: light, life and hope.
Revd Canon J.John