Spring is a time of unpredictable and spectacular storms. Last spring, on my way to visit a friend, brilliant shafts of sunlight almost blinded me. Momentarily dazed, I peered through my car’s windshield up at the sky. I had to look past the swipe of my wipers. Rain was falling and big splotches of water smacked against the glass. Above me, as great billows of towering gray clouds parted, a pristine blue sky appeared, and piercing golden rays of the sun made me turn my head. As I navigated the late afternoon traffic, I marveled at the phenomenon I had observed and snatched a peek at the sky when I could. I knew there was a rainbow somewhere, but I gave up trying to find it. Waiting at the stoplight, I noticed a woman who had interrupted her walk past a nearby building to stand in the rain with her hand shading her eyes. Her head tilted upward and slowly rotated from side to side as she scanned the sky. She, too, was looking for a rainbow. As I traveled on, I conducted an inner dialogue with myself regarding the ephemeral nature of rainbows and humanity’s attraction to them.
To Noah, his legs still throbbing from straddling the heaving deck of his ark, a rainbow signified God’s willingness to forgive our continuing tendency toward violence and corruption, although, "The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21). For this reason, the rainbow and Earthly peace indeed share a similar ephemeral nature, I mused. Yet we search for signs of peace in our day. We urge leaders of national and rebel groups to meet, hoping they will succeed in establishing the foundations of zones of peace in regions of conflict, even though the peace those efforts provide is oftentimes as fleeting as the duration of a rainbow.
What can a rainbow teach us? When the powerful stab of sunlight catches us, why do we lift our rain cover to bear the onslaught, searching storm clouds for a rainbow? Perhaps because a rainbow is complete, containing in its unified image a range of every hue. Arching from horizon to horizon, it hints of a hidden arc that completes it, hanging below our view. The rainbow’s unexpected yet brief existence points to God’s desire to covenant with us. Yet in desperation we continue to weigh the generous, golden sign of God’s unlimited power, on the one hand, against war—the ominous, shameful sign of humanity’s disobedience—on the other hand, and examine current events for a rainbow, sign of divine, eternal, un-Earthly, fleeting peace. We forget that the temporary peace our efforts yield is like a rainbow—a beautiful yet ephemeral sign that, like a wondrous, arching doorway, invites us to covenant with our loving Creator and journey toward a new Jerusalem.
I didn’t find a rainbow that day. The woman I watched turned away from the sky and continued on her way, so I assumed neither did she; yet I know, when the conditions are right, both of us will lift our eyes to the heavens, searching for a rainbow. Some might say we are two of the few romantic optimists left in a world that never has time to stop and stare at the sky—full of people with selfish blinders glaring at their path ahead, ready to ram into and climb over anything that gets in their way. We believe that although we do not always see them, rainbows will show up again and again, a sign of God’s unflagging love for humanity. We look for rainbows because our souls yearn for a sign that our violence and war, our inhumanity to our fellow humans, is forgiven.
The rainbow is a sign God offers to remind each of us of a standing opportunity to covenant with our Creator, our Earth, and each other, but what sign do we offer God of our willingness to accept this offer? I propose we answer the ancient prophet Isaiah’s call to consider how best we, as individuals, and as the united body of Christ, can successfully transform our weapons of violence and war into tools of human nurture. As we use our technology to dismantle all weapons and construct needed economic support for the least among us, we must simultaneously dismantle narrow, nationalistic paradigms that preclude loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is a sign we can offer.
Signs of the spiritual dimension of life are, by nature and purpose, ephemeral. Like the thrill of shooting stars and the fascination of Northern Lights, their fleeting occurrence is prayerfully apprehended by ever-watchful eyes of faith. We need to move beyond looking for rainbows. We have seen enough rainbows to know God continues to forgive us and still holds out a hand to us. In the game of Creator and creature, God has taken a turn, and now it is your move. If you have ever seen a rainbow, raise your hand. God has already given you a sign of forgiveness and willingness to covenant with you. God is reaching a hand out to you. What action will you provide to signify your willingness to covenant with God?