Change Is a Good Thing…A Very Good Thing

  • Nathan Schneider
Leaves during different seasons
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in the courses above,
Join with all nature in manifest witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
–Thomas O. Chisholm

Summer evenings are a special time for my wife and I. After the boys are in bed and the baby is soundly (maybe) sleeping, we like to go out on our back deck, sit around the table, and chat under the light of the midnight sun. It’s our time to dream and plan. It’s where we talk about what we want to do, what plans we have for the backyard, where we want to go camping, where we want to be and do in the coming months and years. While we could easily do this inside, it’s just not the same. Somehow these conversations naturally come about when we’re out there.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about being awake late at night on an Alaskan summer. After I graduated high school, I worked as a greenskeeper at North Star Golf Course on the outskirts of Fairbanks. While everyone was going home for the night, I’d arrive at the course to start watering the greens, a process that took the next eight hours to complete. Being in the interior, the summer light was even more pronounced. During the darkest part of the day, there was still enough light to see a golf ball. The eery twilight frequently attracted ‘guests’ onto the course. Moose were commonplace around the watering holes. Foxes would dart from between cover. It seemed the wildlife agreed…there’s something about Alaskan summer nights.

But here’s the thing…those times don’t last very long. My wife and I were out just the other night enjoying the evening together. But there was a little less ‘enjoyment’ going on this time. The air was decidedly chilly. The light was diminishing quickly. It came to both our lips almost at the same time: “This might be one of the last nice evenings of the summer.” Already by mid-August, things are changing.

It’s so very ironic that the season every Alaskan anticipates so earnestly is the one that seems to come so slowly and vanish so quickly. But that’s how it is to live here, and the one who can’t adapt to that reality is going to find it near impossible to enjoy life here.

That fact is true whether you’re a Christian or not. But there’s another factor to think about in all this change. It’s one that, ironically, actually brings me encouragement and comfort. These changes that go on every season…that take us from summer to autumn, from autumn to winter, and so on…these changes are supposed to happen. More than that, they are required to happen, and every time they do, it should be a cyclical reminder that God is faithful, that he is completely in control of his universe, and that his purposes are in full motion and will continue to be until they are completely accomplished. The reality is that God has inextricably tied his redemptive purposes to his creation.

The first place in the Bible we come across the term “covenant” is in Genesis 6:18. It comes at a time of increasing human wickedness. In fact, the text says that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). It was this wickedness that elicited the cataclysmic wrath of God we read about in the Genesis narrative.

The flood that is described in Genesis 7 and the impact it had on the earth is nearly impossible to comprehend. It was, in essence, an entire undoing of the created order. According to the text, all terrestrial life on earth was obliterated (Gen 6:21-23). The torrential activity of the water combined with the massive tectonic shifts occurring on the ocean floors effectively reconfigured the entire surface of the earth. The world underwent dramatic change in this judgment on sin. Life on earth would, in some respects, never be the same. For those swept away in the watery torrent, the judgment was literally the end of the world. For those floating safely among the crashing waves, it represented the near dismantling of God’s promise (cf. Gen 3:15).

That’s why Genesis 8:21 comes at such a critical time in this narrative. After the flood had finally dissipated, and the ark had come to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Gen 8:4), Noah exited the ark with his family after being holed up inside for nearly a year. The earth as Noah knew it had been undone. He was essentially standing on a newly-created world, and his presence there with his family was like God was starting the entirety of humanity over again. He and his family was the new first-family, the new Adam and Eve, and the animals they had harbored those many months were the start of new life on the earth. These events were so significant that God gave Noah and his family and the animals with him the same charge he gave to Adam and Eve during creation week (Gen 8:17; 9:7; cf. 1:28).

Noah’s first act on dry ground was to build an altar and offer on it some of every clean animal he had taken onto the ark (Gen 8:19). It was a natural response for him…in fact, it was the only reasonable response he could make. You see, Noah had witnessed the utter wrath of God. It was devastating and destructive. It had changed Noah’s entire life. But while he witnessed God’s wrath, he had experienced God’s grace. Noah and his family were alive. They had been guided and sustained, and they stood on dry ground because God had saved them from his wrath. What else could Noah do in response to God’s amazing gift of grace? There was only one thing he could do…he could demonstrate his submission and dedication by sacrificing burnt offerings to the God who had saved and sustained him.

Now, this is where the story gets really interesting. The sacrifices Noah offered produced a smoke that is alluded to have ascended up to heaven and into, as it were, the very nostrils of God:

And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “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. (Genesis 8:21)

In essence, Noah’s response to God’s grace elicited an even greater act of divine grace…the initiation of what we refer to as the Noahic Covenant.

Now, it’s clear from this verse that the flood changed nothing with respect to fallen humanity. Man was just as sinful as he had been before the flood (cf. Gen 6:5-7). But one reality is made absolutely concrete by this promise: God was making it clear that the ultimate end of mankind would not be divine judgment but instead divine blessing. In other words, the whole point of the Noahic Covenant is not simply that God promised not to flood the world again. The point of the covenant is that God was reaffirming “the divine intention expressed in creation (Gen 1-2) that there be an earth inhabited by life, filled with a humanity in communion with God” (Blaising & Bock, 128). It had looked like the flood had dismantle that intention. But what God was saying was that man’s sinfulness would not be allowed to derail his plan of redemption that he promised in Genesis 3:15.

Now, here’s the big question: how can we really be sure about this? How can we trust that God will keep this promise? Well, we might be tempted to look to the sign of the rainbow. However, the text actually says that the rainbow serves as a reminder, not to us, but to God (Gen 9:15, 16)! It is the symbolic picture of God handing up his war bow.

Instead, God gave something different as a sign for us. He has tied his promise of ultimate blessing to the very order of nature itself:

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

The continuing cycles of nature confirm God’s faithfulness. The sun continues to rise and set. Seasonal cycles continue as they should. God has set a definitive confirmation to his covenant promise in that he will never again allow his plans to “be interrupted by a suspension of the natural order” (Path and Armerding, ISBE, 1:73). Local events may come and go…famines, droughts, floods, etc. But the universal nature of God’s promise guarantees that these natural cycles will continue to exist until God’s redemptive purposes are accomplished.

The importance of the Noahic Covenant cannot be overstated. It’s so foundational to God’s purposes for creation and redemption that God anchors his other covenant promises in this one. The unfailing regularity of the natural order is the guarantee that God’s promises in the Davidic and Priestly covenants (Jer 33:20-21) as well as the New Covenant (Gen 31:35-36) will never be broken:

Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” (Jeremiah 31:35-36)

“Thus says the Lord: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken, so that he shall not have a son to reign on his throne, and my covenant with the Levitical priests my ministers.” (Jeremiah 33:20-21)

So why am I encouraged by the chilling air and darkening skies of mid-August in Alaska? Why am I okay when the leaves start to change, the grass begins to fade, and the cold set in? Why will I be content when the first snowfall appears and ushers us into the long, dark days of Alaskan winter? Because it means the seasons are changing. I may wish for a few more days of summer, for a little more time to fish and hike and barbecue without a jacket. But as the seasons change, it reminds me that God is faithful. It reminds me that God’s redemptive plans are in place, and that nothing can derail them–not riots, or economic depression, or pandemics, or presidential races, or massive ammonium-nitrate explosions, or changes in climate, or whatever else you might hear about in the news or from politicians. As overwhelming as those things may be to us…as small and insignificant and powerless they make us feel…they have no power over the plans and purposes of God. And they certainty have no power over my salvation and security in him.

All that I can do is follow Noah’s example. I may not be an eyewitness to God’s awesome wrath. But I’m certainly a recipient of his unmerited grace. And so I too can offer up a sacrifice to show my submission and gratitude and dedication to the God who has saved and sustains me.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)