Remember the rainbow
A remarkable symbol of God’s mercy in a sin-darkened world
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It’s been rain-storming a lot here in Los Angeles. I’m sure the dear weather-hardened folks in the Midwest are rolling their eyes at this Southern Californian princess, but hey, LA does get pretty nasty when it rains. The lightest drizzle can screech traffic to a halt, blare “flash floods” alarms on our cell phones, and blow a flu epidemic across our very pampered immune systems. Remember: Our “winters” are sunny 63-degree days with occasional showers if we’re lucky. Anything lower than 70 degrees, and you see people lugging out their parkas, wool sweaters, and Ugg boots.
But during these winter storms, something uncommon in California happens: The sun is gone for days. It might be 10 a.m. and the whole city stays tucked under a looming shadow. And for people who are used to golden sun-streaked days 350 days of the year, it’s a disorienting experience. Everything starts looking darker, more somber, more depressing. Warm sun rays? Golden-tanned skin? Cruising down the 405 with the convertible roof down and wind rustling your hair? Oh foregone days.
I feel the same about these LA winter storms as when I read the news, which is getting more and more depressing. Scrolling through a Twitter feed is mentally and emotionally hazardous, what with all the 280-character-long fearmongering and squabbling. This country seems to be on a continued decline: racial divisions, distortions of sexuality and gender, ghastly pro-abortion bills, the debt crisis, the government shutdown … The world also appears to be in chaos: dictatorship in Venezuela, corruption and poverty and violence in Central America, a stream of ailing refugees from the Middle East and Africa, rising anti-Semitism and riots in Europe, power threats and religious persecution from China …
Yes, reading the news is a surefire reminder that this world is a dark, evil, terrible place. I know that God is a perfectly holy and righteous Creator—so pure and holy that the presence of God set Moses trembling with fear, and made Isaiah cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips!”—so it’s disturbing to realize how we humans are so openly rebelling against God, so audaciously wronging each other.
It was with this disturbed spirit that I was driving to a supermarket about a week ago. It had been raining for days in LA, leaving days-old puddles that cars splashed over poor pedestrians. Then I noticed that every driver was slowing down, his or her eyes peering up at the sky. I too lifted my eyes, and saw one of the most perfect rainbows I had ever seen sweeping across the sky in a pristine, multicolored arc. The reds, yellows, greens, blues, and violets were all soft pastels, yet bright enough to be in distinct layers, and a slight glow illuminated the area under the rainbow. It was a scene of magical wonder.
As I arrived at the supermarket, people were standing in the parking lot with their heads tilted up, momentarily forgetting their arms were full of groceries. “Look at that,” one older woman exclaimed, her mouth gaping. “Wow,” a man gasped, holding his son’s hand. When I walked out of the supermarket with my bags, people young and old were still looking up and pointing. Everyone had a little smile on his or her face, and so did I.
It was a short, rather insignificant moment—rainbows happen all the time, and even kids learn the science behind rainbows, how they are an optical illusion. But something about watching everyone look up in delight at the same sight touched me.
It reminded me of Ezekiel 1:28: “Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.” It also reminded me of Revelation 4:3, in which John describes the majesty of God in heaven: “And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.”
And of course, I thought of God’s promise to Noah never again to wipe out his creation with a flood, a promise symbolized by the first rainbow to appear in the world: “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” (Genesis 9:12). The rainbow is a sign of God’s mercy and common grace, even as it reminds us of the contrast between the sin-corrupted world and the perfect righteousness of God. Thank God that as unrighteous and blind and hard-hearted as we are, the Lord’s mercy and promises never fail. Without that, truly, woe to us!
Not everyone in LA believes that rainbows are a covenant sign from God—but I think deep down, somewhere in people’s beings created in the divine image of God, something stirs, something delights. So the next time I read Twitter and feel a disturbance in my spirit, I’ll aim to remember the rainbow.
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