In Toronto, I feel it in the air when spring approaches. The change is sometimes sharp. One day, winter reigns, bitter and cold, and I hunker into my scarf, head down, toque on. But when spring first subtly appears, I find myself turning toward the wind, sensing the warmth, assured that winter's end is near.
Winter is not my favourite. Yes, I am Canadian. However, when it comes to winter, I am, admittedly, a west coast wimp. You see, in Vancouver, -30 degrees is an abstraction, an unimaginable temperature, something that exists in theory, but elsewhere. And, of course, why live elsewhere? (You should know that at one point BC license plates read "The Best Place On Earth." I kid you not.)
And, therefore, Ontario winters always feel interminable to me.
So it is often with much joy that I step out of my apartment building and relish the arrival of spring. Sometimes on those first few paces out the door, I can't help but pause, inhaling deeply, extending my arms -- a strange embrace of sorts as though I hope somehow to cradle the gentle warmth of spring forever. Such a simple pleasure. One made all the more precious after months of ice and harsh winds. In six months time, I will close my eyes and try to summon these memories of perfect weather, reminding myself of seasons and their certain cycles, looking forward again to spring.
When I first moved to Toronto, I would have sudden pangs of longing for familiar horizons filled with western red cedars and north shore mountains. Whether or not BC is the best place on earth is up for debate, but BC certainly is beautiful. I took it for granted most of my life that I could walk 5 minutes and then stroll under a canopy of conifers, branches overhead interlaced with sky. I could drive 15 minutes and then spend until sundown peering over waters, scanning for seals. Though less frequently now, there are times still when my heart simply aches to gaze upon pristine and majestic beauty. Sometimes I close my eyes and I try to remember the feel of the brisk breeze off the ocean, the scent of salt in the air.
Often, as a Christian, I am remarkably shortsighted. My heart unfocuses, fixating mostly on today and my relatively small problems. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it, "we live too much with the things that are immediately in front of us instead of putting everything into the context of our standing and of our destiny." Sometimes, because of how profoundly knowing Jesus changed my life, I can mistakenly overemphasize the immediate.
Yes, my life today in Christ is better than it ever was before I knew Christ. That might sound so bold as to be overstated. However, in the biblical sense, to know Christ and to be known by him is the difference between life and death (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-7), light and darkness (John 8:12, 12:46; 1 John 1:5-7), sight and blindness (John 12:39-41), hearing and deafness (Matthew 11:15; John 10:3-4), found and lost (Luke 15), freedom and slavery (Romans 6:20-22; Galatians 5:1), flesh and stone (Ezekiel 11:19) citizen and foreigner (Ephesians 2:19-21), friend and enemy (John 15:15; Romans 5:10), son and stranger (Ephesians 1:4-5; 1 John 3:1; Matthew 7:21-23). The difference is diametric. My life is supremely better because of Christ. (Please note that I say better, not easier -- it's apparent to all of us that what is easier is not necessarily better, right?)
And yet, my life today is not the best -- there is a better and more glorious day. How amazing to think that, because of Christ, my life is infinitely better and yet the best is still to come. Ultimately, every longing I have for beauty seeks permanence that this world, under the current curse and corruption of sin (Romans 8:21), cannot give, directing me to that Spirit-produced desire for an eternity of unbroken beauty and communion with God. I am still trying to wrap my mind around the truth and hope of heaven and the resurrection, something that I want so much to cascade down from high, ethereal thoughts to gripping, conscious realities in my heart.
It helps when I close my eyes and think slowly upon these words:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with the, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. [...]
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of the God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day -- and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life (Revelation 21:1-4, 22-27).