“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.”
The story of Noah is a familiar one. God, displeased with the state of creation and judging all humans evil, decided to destroy all creatures living on earth. All, that is, except for Noah and his family. Noah was righteous and had found favor with God. As such his family was to be spared. And so he built an ark according to God’s specifications, taking into it his family and a number of all the creatures on earth. The storms came, and the earth flooded. All life perished except for those on the ark. After the waters had receded, God instructed Noah to leave the ark and repopulate the world. Noah, no doubt grateful for his deliverance, built an altar and offered burnt offerings. The Lord, pleased with the offerings, promised humankind would never be destroyed by flood again. God set a rainbow in the clouds as a sign of this covenant—a reminder for God and for us that, though the storms may rage, humanity—God’s beloved creation—will not perish in the floods.
Some people read the story of Noah as a cautionary tale about the wrath of God. If we stray too far, the fierce Judge will strike with thunder and lightning. Indeed the Old Testament is full of God’s wrath, sometimes obliterating entire cities and peoples. In Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Jonathan Edwards paints just such a grim picture:
“The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.”
Some people even read the story of Noah as an explanation for catastrophic flooding we experience today. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, there were those who claimed it was something of a divine cleanup operation. Could it be that the people of New Orleans or Houston or California or Nebraska are merely sinners in the hands of an angry God?
No. God never promised the storms would not come. God never promised there would be no suffering or heartache or even death in the storms. God promised only that humanity will live on—that we will rise above the worse and worst inside of us. The rainbow is a promise that for every Good Friday there is an Easter. The rainbow is a promise that the storm is passing over, and love—battered though it be—wins.
It is that very love which brings us to you. A rainbow, perhaps. A reminder of God’s promise that whether you find yourself in calm seas or overcome by the gale, you are a child of God in God’s care.