The West Wind of Extravagant Mercy
It’s been a wee bit chilly of late, hasn’t it? A few days back, with the thermometer here in Cochrane reading a balmy minus-31 degrees, out of curiosity I did a quick Google search on current temperatures in Antarctica. Scrolling through a long list of research stations and weather posts, I failed to find a lower temperature than minus-29. Sorry, brothers and sisters, but we were colder than the South Pole last week.
Of course, then I saw a Facebook graphic stating that Winnipeg was colder than Mars!
Therefore, many of us were relieved to see the beautiful sight of a chinook arch over the mountains to the west, heralding a warm west wind.
The Bible uses the “four winds” as a literary device in many different places, and sometimes identifies them by their source. For example, the “east wind” is often used as a proxy for God’s hand in judgment. In Genesis 41, grain blighted by an “east wind” is, in a dream, a prophecy of famine; in Exodus 10, an east wind brings a plague of locusts; in Psalm 48 an east wind scatters the ships of Tarshish; in Isaiah 27 and Jeremiah 18 God’s impending scattering and exile of Judah is framed in terms of an east wind. This isn’t an absolute rule, though, as in Exodus 14 a strong east wind divides the Red Sea and allows Israel to escape; however, even that exception has a connotation of judgment, as the divided Red Sea not only turned out to be an avenue of escape for Israel, but also a watery tomb for the warhost of Egypt.
We in Alberta are accustomed to the weather coming off of the mountains, and so for us a west wind would be more familiar. Oddly, the west wind is only explicitly mentioned once in Scripture. It appears in Exodus 10, a passage we already saw above, in contrast with the east wind that brought locusts in judgment. Pharaoh pleads with Moses to have God relent, and so when Moses prays, a west wind blows all the locusts out of the land. First the east wind of judgment brought the devouring locust, and then the west wind of God’s mercy casts the locust back from whence it came.
While the east wind is pretty reliably found in the Bible as a substitute for judgment, the fact that its western counterpart is only found once means we have far less certainty in labeling it as a proxy for mercy. Indeed, in Exodus 10 the west wind is used as an instrument of mercy probably as a direct contrast with God’s judgment as expressed from the opposite direction. And we would be tearing even the east wind out of its biblical context if we were to try to, say, interpret a sudden wind gust from Saskatchewan as a sign of God’s displeasure—much less the west winds we’re used to. Simply because a natural phenomenon is used in a significant way in the Bible does not mean it has the same spiritual significance when that phenomenon occurs in daily life.
Winds have no inherent meaning in and of themselves, in other words. Their meaning in the Bible is found in their placement in the Bible’s story, in their context and effects as part of God’s unfolding plan. Biblical history gives those winds meaning; our winds lack that redemptive-historical context.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t draw any spiritual applications from the relief of a warm west wind in January. After the last few weeks, it’s not hard to embrace the chinook as a merciful reprieve. We would not be wrong to thank God for his mercy in sending it. It’s important for us as Christians to appreciate God’s providence and common grace, after all. It was God’s providential control of even the minute details of our weather that brought the recent blast of cold, and it was God’s providence that brought the chinook’s relief.
And so the chinook may serve, for us, as a reminder of two things. First, we don’t control the weather, any more than Pharaoh could control his winds or the locusts they carried. We are truly at the mercy of the elements—or, rather, at the mercy of the One whose hand directs them. We are small, insignificant, in comparison to a sovereign God.
Second, God does send the warm sun and the life-giving rain—and the chinook wind!—on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). It’s not just we believers who get to enjoy a bit of relatively warmer weather; our lost friends and family hereabouts do as well. My firm belief is that these small mercies are real expressions of God’s patience with fallen and lost sinners—including those whom God has not ultimately elected to salvation. I reject hyper-Calvinism, and therefore I deny the hyper-Calvinistic notion that God’s common grace has no deliberate intention of goodwill toward the lost. God takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. God shows mercy even to those who remain his enemies—not saving mercy, mind you, except for those elect ones he chooses to draw to himself—but real mercy nonetheless. God doesn’t have to allow the non-elect to enjoy the relative comforts of our world, but he does. He could have sent them straight to their fate. He owes them nothing. But he didn’t, and his merciful patience and forbearance with them, although not a saving mercy, is a genuine mercy nonetheless.
Part of God’s intention in allowing such a delay in final judgment, and in providing a livable world for his work of redemption, is to allow for the full number of the elect to be gathered. I believe that another part of it, however, is God’s desire to show his character as a merciful, caring, and loving Creator and King even to those who will not accept his rule. To see such a glimpse of God’s character is a blessing, even to the non-elect sinner. That blessing is intentional, even if it is extravagant in a way—that is, not called for—and while it does ultimately serve to deepen the severity of the sinner’s rejection of God, it is still a genuine expression of God’s kindness to him. And so until that work of gathering God’s elect is complete, the winds will blow and the non-elect will enjoy a measure of temporary mercy.
Think on that. If even God will show a real though non-salvific mercy to his enemies, how much more are we called to give the mercy of the Gospel to all those who are perishing—not knowing, as the limited creatures we are, who is elect and who is not?
So as you enjoy the brief respite in the weather these days, think on how God sends the rain (and the chinook) on the righteous and wicked alike. Think on the sovereign authority and power of a God who controls even the weather. Thank him for his small mercies, which point beyond themselves to mercies even greater. And let us strive to share the warm, relief-bringing grace and mercy of the Gospel call with all, in much the same way.