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At the Back of the North Wind

We're at that time, as Dickens described it, "when the old year is preparing . . . to call his friends around him, and amidst the sound of feasting and revelry to pass gently and calmly away."

Invariably, at the end of every year, we pause to remember loved ones who are no longer with us, and maybe we remember that we will soon join them—which can be a disquieting thought, unless it's quieted by hope.

In George MacDonald's book, At the Back of the North Wind, Diamond is a poor, young boy who sleeps in a hayloft. The walls of the loft were only thin lumber, and one winter's night, the wind blew out a knothole and came in like a long, whistling spear of cold. The next day, when Diamond's mother saw the hole, she pasted a bit of paper over it to stop the wind.

That night when he went to bed, Diamond heard something. Putting his ear next to the paper, he heard a voice asking why he had closed the knothole and shut out the wind? It was the North Wind speaking—a beautiful lady with hair like night. She and Diamond eventually struck up an acquaintance, and she took him on some wonderful adventures. Over time, she sought to correct his impression of her—the one left by her cold, blustery side, which often brought misfortune and ruin. When Diamond asked that she not blow in his face, she said she couldn't promise that, but she assured him that even when she was a frigid gale, it was to make things better, not worse. When she seemed ugly, she wasn't being bad but was trying to make ugly things beautiful. Initially, but not surprisingly, Diamond understood none of this.

In reading the story, it slowly becomes clear that MacDonald uses the North Wind as a stunning metaphor for Death. When you're in front of the wind, you're hit by gusts and gales that can destroy, drown, and bring sadness and sorrow. But there was another side to the North Wind, the back side. When Diamond was allowed to glimpse this side, he found the North Wind wasn't there at all; nor was snow, ice, or cold. There was, however, plenty of light and flowers and a river flowing through a meadow that sang tunes people could hear. Things went right at the back of the North Wind and left a feeling that was better than happiness.

After returning from seeing all this, nothing that happened to Diamond could make him miserable. In bad times, he'd dream of what he'd seen; and when the North Wind was a fierce, unrelenting headwind, he'd remember the song the river sang.

And then Diamond got sick. When a friend asked if he was afraid, he asked why should he be? "I only feel a little cold," he said.

One morning, they found him on the floor. At first, they thought he was asleep. But he wasn't — he'd gone to the back of the North Wind.

We find something similar to MacDonald's allegory in Scripture, where Paul tells the Corinthians about a visit he made to third heaven. The headwinds Paul faced thereafter were terrible. He mentions them in places like 2 Corinthians 6.4–10 and 11.22–33. But despite the howling gales, Paul was "absolutely convinced" (Phillips) that no storm could separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.38–39). I've got to believe Paul's persuasion traced, at least in part, to what he saw when he saw Paradise (2 Cor. 12.4). When the end comes, and the wind is furious and relentless, isn't it good to remember the land that lies at the back of the North Wind?