Could You Survive A Medieval Winter (Or An Ancient Persecution)?

Neal Pollard

How would you like to try and negotiate a Russian winter the way our Medieval forbears did, sans electricity, modern food conveniences, and Netflix? The Middle Ages, an approximate 1,000 years from about the time of the fall of the western Roman Empire (in Rome, Italy) to the time of the collapse of the eastern Roman Empire (in Constantinople, Turkey), also had a “Little Ice Age” from 1300 to “about 1870.” Sandra Alvarez writes, “Winter was a frightening time for many people; if there was a poor harvest, you could starve to death, and there was always the chance of contracting illnesses that could easily kill you, like pneumonia…. Winter was the most dangerous time in the medieval calendar year” (medievalists.net). A few years ago, a medievalist reenactment group (who know such existed?) selected one of their own “to live on a farmstead, with only ninth century tools, clothing and shelter for six months” (ibid.). Once a month they checked on him to make sure he was still alive.  The volunteer was undoubtedly hearty, but he could have left if he needed or wanted to. His more ancient counterparts could not.

I find it interesting to think about how people lived in the past, throughout the different periods of history. Dave Chamberlin is the master of transporting his students back to Bible history, describing the housing, diet, habits, and mindset of those in Old and New Testament times. It is incredible that people who lived so starkly different from us had the same feelings, needs, desires, and thoughts that we do today. How masterful that God wrote a book as ancient as the beginning of time and as modern as the morning news. It guides and directs us more adroitly than the best-selling survival guide by the world’s finest team of experts could.

As a Christian interested in restoring New Testament Christianity, I think about my first-century forbears. I assemble to worship in a much different style of clothing, singing songs with different tunes and illustrating sermons with different current events. As Christians visited at the conclusion of worship, did they have ancient equivalents for our talk of football, medical procedures and doctor visits, children’s and grandchildren’s social, athletic, and educational activities, and the like? Often, their pressing problems centered around surviving in a culture that, at times, detested them even while they enjoyed the great benefits of their godly lives. Their thoughts and prayers periodically centered around losing their jobs and possessions for being Christians (cf. Heb. 10:34) and even their homes, safety, and the threat of death (Acts 8:1ff; 12:1ff).

In some ways, our times are decidedly different. We enjoy many advantages and suffer a few disadvantages compared to our physical and spiritual ancestors. The time may come when we must face a winter without cars, electricity, and store-bought food. The time may come when we must face a culture so hostile to our faith that it costs us in a way none of us has yet experienced. The way to cope then would be the way we must cope now, by trusting a God whose provisions we often take for granted, whose love for us is greater than we could fathom, and whose promises are more enduring than life, death, and the grave. In the greatest trials, we can say with Paul, “31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32). Nothing can separate us from His perfect love (Rom. 8:35-39). That, my friend, is timeless!

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