In many respects, autumn is my favorite season of the year.

The crisp, cool air is a welcome relief to the warm and humid days of August. Most years, the dark green of our Midwestern trees gives way to vibrant red and gold and orange, along with muted burgundy, an occasional pink, and pale yellows and greens. The splashes of variegated color brighten the landscape. Oh, and then there’s the ripened apples that find their way into pies, crisps, or simply the lunchbox! The “feel” is cozy and comfortable. There is no doubt—autumn has arrived; summer is ended.

But there are ominous signs, too. The corn and soybean fields gradually turn from their mid-summer lush green to tinges of yellow, then brown, then…empty fields. Large, round grass wheels dot what earlier had been a thick hay field. The glorious colors of the changing leaves ebb away—some years, very swiftly. In a matter of a few weeks, only the tree’s skeleton remains, black against a gray November sky. It’s inescapable—autumn has come; the harvest is past. And we who live in the northern half of these United States know what’s coming next. We just don’t know how harsh and cold and white it will be or how long it will last this time around. Winter. Were it not for winter, autumn would be my favorite season in every respect.

Fortunately, I’ve survived all 56 of my winters. The harvests past; summers ended. But there was always plenty to get me through the winters that followed. Imagine if that had not been the case. It would have taken but one year, and I wouldn’t be here to tell of any others. How devastating to come to the end of the harvest season with nothing to show for it, nothing that would ensure survival.

Such is the lament of the people of Judah, recorded in Jeremiah 8:20. They’re supposed to be a people who worship God exclusively—the Lord who chose them, redeemed them, delivered them, preserved them, and countless times forgave them. But they kept going back to their idols, to false gods that are no gods, and in the process turned their backs on the Lord. Such unfaithfulness cannot go on unchecked forever. As a loving father will chasten his rebellious child, so the Lord punishes His erring people. Winter comes upon them. “The harvest is past,” they cry, “the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” It’s a long, cold, harsh season to face when the forsaken Lord finally disciplines His wayward children.