Growing up in Alabama has not afforded me a whole lot of opportunities to enjoy the wonder of snow. But when we do receive that gift, the kid inside me comes alive. The expectation. The silent drift of white from the heavens. It’s the kind of thing we would find astonishing if we had never seen it before and suddenly it fell like gentle kisses on our heads.
I am not among those who think it an inconvenience. You would never hear me complain. A day off work? How about three? My favorite part is night—when the quiet has fallen over my street and you can hear the train down below in the valley, and the night is stark against the white blanket that covers the ground. It’s the “stab of joy” C. S. Lewis describes.
But I live in Alabama. The snow disappears soon and the magic leaves and the black of the roads emerges to let all us kids down.
For a while I did not get why God said in Isaiah 1:18 that even though our sins are like scarlet, He will make them white, like snow. Why not say our sins are black? That seems more appropriate. On the color spectrum, black is usually considered the opposite of white. Generally, when someone wants to contrast the whiteness of something, they use “black” or “darkness.” And that would fit here. God is saying throughout this chapter that Israel’s sins are a real problem.
So why does God say our sins are scarlet?
Israel knows, or should have known, how serious their sin problem was. They had been given the sacrificial system to point out how serious. Animals had to die. Blood had to be spilled to show them how seriously God took His own holiness and their sin. The ugliness of their rebellion was on full display when those animals were slaughtered and their blood dripped and ran and covered the ground.
Their sins were not just dark. They were scarlet. They were crimson like blood. And so are ours.
Think about the contrast: the scarlet of the blood our sin requires and the white of that snow covering our front yards as night falls. That is quite a reversal. But it did not come cheap. It came at the expense of the blood of Jesus on the cross.
But get this. Our sins are now as white as snow. I think there are a number of implications for this but here is one we cannot miss: when God looks at we who have trusted in the blood of Jesus, He doesn’t see the ugliness of our sin but the beauty of Jesus’ cleansing work. And it is beautiful and magical, like snow on a front lawn in Alabama. If you look at it rightly, the sight can take your breath away.
Written by Matthew B. Redmond