Hey, who doesn’t love a rainbow?
They’re beautiful. They convey hope. They’re often a welcome sign that serious storms (literal or figurative) have passed and better times are ahead. In short, everybody likes–no, more likely loves–rainbows.
And, of course, there’s numerous biblical connections, particularly so with this week’s lectionary reading from Genesis:
Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” –Genesis 9:8-17 NRSV
With so much rainbow “happy talk” widespread throughout our contemporary culture it’s worth taking a little time to look closely at some much deeper theological concerns evident in the ending to the Noah story.
The early chapters of Genesis convey a story of humankind’s proclivity and passion for sin–for separating itself from the Creator’s love and guidance. Yet this God, the “god” of the Hebrews and their progenitors, was not like all the other ancient gods and goddesses. Yahweh, as God came to be known, did not respond to this situation of human betrayal with anger and vengeance. Rather, God was “sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (verse 6).
God is grieved and pained, both for the condition of human hearts and the brokenness of creation. And as a result God sends a flood–not so much as punishment as a sign of intense grief over the loss of “right relationships” between God and humans and all creation. Yes, humanity’s betrayal has effects far beyond the human/God relationship and extends to the corruption of all the earth (6:11), and therefore in its destruction.
After the flood God makes a promise, one that will last forever and extend throughout all of creation, to never more destroy. And so God, figuratively speaking, hangs up his bow (the most common symbol of warfare in ancient times) and extends an olive branch. This is something no other ancient hero or deity in any culture probably would have done. The God we read about in Genesis is different. Justice for the God who came to be known as Yahweh is not connected to vengeance and destruction but just the opposite: peaceful reconciliation.
It amazes me to think that so many Christians in my own time overlook this stunning aspect of divine justice, believing in end-times destruction narratives such as that found in the popular “Left Behind” novels and movies. I stand with those Christians who reject that gross misreading of apocalyptic biblical books (Daniel and Revelation, in particular). I believe God promises a future of peace and reconciliation and true justice. Not that it will come easily, of course, or without pain and struggle at times.
God’s promise, as found in Genesis 9, is indeed everlasting. It can be counted on. It is true.
My latest book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is available from Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. To celebrate the first anniversary of its publication, I have reduced the price for the remainder of February: $6.99 for the print edition and $1.99 for the Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions