How Cold is Cold?

How cold is “cold”? As I sit down to write, our neck of the woods is beginning to enter the deep freeze, with temperatures falling the rest of the day and overnight. The weather people and my app tell us that the mercury is supposed to hit -26 before rising to a high of -17 on Wednesday (January 30). Everyone I’ve talked to around these parts in the past few days mentions how cold it is and is going to be.

Yet we have friends who are enjoying the balmy climes of Florida right now. While we’re enduring the sub-zero temps tomorrow, they’ll be enjoying a wonderfully mild high of 55 after dipping down only to 45 overnight tonight. If you hear the native Floridians talk, though, that’s cold! So cold, in fact, they’ll be bundled up in coats and hats. And we, of course, just chuckle. I can’t help but wonder if the residents of Nome, Alaska aren’t chuckling at us in the Midwest! I wondered that, but then checked my weather app, and was a bit surprised to find the ten-day forecast in Nome never once drops below zero. Hmmm. Anyway, it seems evident that how cold is “cold” is somewhat relative dependent upon where a person lives.

Nevertheless, “cold” is very real—a biblical reality, even. Sometimes, cold is a positive thing. If you’re hot and thirsty, and someone gives you a cup of cold water, you would deeply appreciate it. Jesus even says there’s a reward for giving one of his disciples a cup of cold water (Matthew 10:42). Proverbs 25:25 likens the arrival of good news to the refreshing benefit of a drink of cold water to a thirsty soul. In Revelation 3:15, Jesus harshly criticizes the church at Laodicea because the congregation is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. His point is that cold water is refreshing (hence, desirable) and hot water is soothing and cleansing (hence, desirable), but lukewarm is neither (hence, undesirable).

Then again, there are plenty of references to cold as an unwelcome companion. Jacob lamented to his father-in-law that he’d worked for him for years as a shepherd, enduring the heat of the day and the shivering cold of night (Genesis 31:40). When Paul and his companions suffered shipwreck on the island of Malta, the islanders took pity on them and built a fire to keep the victims warm against the cold, rainy weather (Acts 28:2). I imagine it was a bit like one of our dreary March days in the Midwest—drizzly, damp, bone-chilling cold. And then there’s what Paul endured. He offers quite a list of difficulties he went through in his ministry travels. Among the hardships catalogued he speaks of enduring “many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:27).

One of the things we have to come to grips with is that “cold” seems to be a consequence of man’s fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). It was that fall which ushered in the vast array of evil concocted in the heart of man and expressed constantly in his outward behavior. Genesis describes it this way: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) That extensive, universal expression of wickedness resulted in the judgment of the global flood, radically impacting the planet’s ecosystem as a protective vapor barrier (creating a sort of greenhouse effect) collapsed. Only after that catastrophic event does “cold” enter the picture. In God’s promise never again to send such a global flood, He said, “Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22). So I guess we could say we have no one to blame but ourselves for our chattering teeth!

Nevertheless, the Lord makes clear that He is behind the temperature drop. I took the picture in the banner above at a state park about an hour from our home. It was a cold February Saturday after we’d had a good bit of snow and several days of temps well below freezing. Chris and I donned our winter gear and trudged through the snow, down into the canyon—or dells, as they’re called—to the foot of a 35’ mostly frozen waterfall. It’s our default tendency in this scientific age to relegate all that we see to the “laws of science.” The ice crystals formed on the log were due to X…the thin ice layer over the falling water was due to Y, and so on. But if that’s the extent of our mind’s journey, we haven’t traveled far enough. Psalm 147 explains:

[The LORD] sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.

Psalm 147:15-18

Do you get it? The Lord sent all this snow we’re griping about. He created the ice crystals clinging to the fallen log. It’s His cold that, were it not for several layers of clothing, I’d freeze to death. And in a couple days when the temperatures rise to the upper 30s and the rain begins to fall and the snow starts to melt—He will have sent that, too. And so it has been since the flood, and so it will continue to be. And if nothing else, we can be thankful for it, because the ongoing cycle of cold and heat, the summer and winter reminds us that we may shiver and we may bake, but we won’t drown in a global flood—even though we’re really no better than those who did (see Genesis 8:21)!