It is beautiful and mysterious, inspiring poetry and songs and dreams about the sunshine and happiness to be found with it, over it and at its end (where a pot of gold is said to glisten). It has also come to have profound political meaning, symbolizing universal inclusion, civil rights and love. As something that emerges after the storm, it is dearly embraced as the ultimate emblem of hope.
I describe of course “the rainbow.”
In the Bible, the rainbow is said to be the symbol of God’s first covenant with humanity. God establishes it in the sky after the Great Flood is over; it’s the symbol of God’s promise to endlessly care for creation from hereon in. One of the common takeaways of this text is that we are to thus endlessly care for creation, too.
These sentiments are all really sweet, nice, helpful, colorful and especially green. However, if we look at this text closely, that magnificent bow becomes something a little more utilitarian. And more than a little funny.
The rainbow is really God’s “time-out corner.” The equivalent of flat white plaster perhaps accented by a bit of plywood molding along the middle. Maybe sporting a heavenly dust bunny or cobweb or two.
The rainbow is where God says He plans to go to when He needs a little chilling out. God being God, He of course knows all...and this apparently includes the fact that He's got a big anger management problem.
After all, in Genesis 6-9, He’s gotten so angry at human sinfulness that He’s destroyed everything (except of course Noah and his paired-up ark-folk). The remainder of all peppy puppies, coy giraffes, funky monkeys – everything that breathes, whether or not it had anything to do with human sinfulness or not -- went mercilessly down in the 40-day deluge of pounding water.
From a justice perspective, God’s anger here got a little…okay way…out of hand.
So afterwards, God sets a bow in the clouds so “I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature (that never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth).” (Gen. 9:15)
Implied here is the notion that God knows He needs help. He will continue to get really angry, because that's the way He is (and because humans will continue to do all sorts of awful things to drive him C-R-A-Z-Y). But He's learned His lesson and wants to curb that anger before it all ever again ends in tears.
So, even when that rainbow isn’t available, God will need other anger management aids to assuage His rage.
In the not too distant future – at Exodus 4:24, before He is even able to liberate the suffering Hebrews from oppressive Egyptian slavery -- God will suddenly descend upon His beloved chosen leader, Moses, seeking to kill him. Kill him! God is ostensibly furious because Moses has been so petulantly reluctant to accept the Burning Bush call to lead. What keeps God’s ire at bay here is the newly circumcised foreskin of Moses’ son that wife Zipporah dangles above her husband, successfully yet strangely driving the Almighty away.
Why, you may ask, didn’t the rainbow come into play? Perhaps it’s because we’re told God came upon Moses in the nighttime, when rainbows can't be seen (and provide the needed reminder). Maybe that was even God's intention. ("I'll go when it's dark so I can't see a rainbow and pull back!! I'm just that mad!!!! Argh!!!!!") Thank goodness Zipporah was one quick-witted lady! :) (You can learn more about this wacky story in my previous blog, The Snip Snip That Saved Western Civilization.)
A little while later in Exodus, at Chapter 32, God will get explosively angry-to-the-point-of-almost-regretting-it again. He sees His Chosen People dancing and praying around a golden calf as they journey in the wilderness to the Promised Land. Here God will want to kill them. ("Kill them all! All my #%&*@^ Chosen People!! And I can and WILL take my own name in vain if I want to thank you very much!!! ARGH!!!!!!!") Thankfully, Moses has learned from his wife’s quick-witted ways, and he talks God out of such slaughter by saying He’ll look really stupid to the Egyptians if He kills His people now, having just made the stink that He did to liberate them. (I know, when does God ever give a snit about what the Egyptians think – but Moses probably knew, like we all do, that when you’re on the road anything is possible....)
Again, anger is abated without a rainbow. This time it's probably because everyone is out in the desert, where it never ever rains....
From the "comic lens," we're invited to laugh at this portrayal of God as the Almighty Creator of the Universe who nevertheless can't control His emotions as He would like or should. Who sometimes must go to ridiculous measures to get a grip. We're also invited to laugh at His people who do all sorts of things that continue to get His goat. God should be perfect; the people shouldn't be able to cause Him to lose control as they do.
We laugh because we recognize from these crazy stories just how difficult controlling anger can be. Is. For everyone. Even God! And if God doesn't give a flip about how ridiculous He looks in trying to better manage his emotions, then, we -- created in God's image -- shouldn't either.
I believe the purpose of the Bible's ongoing over-the-top portrayal of God's immense anger is to amuse us into change (the reason humor is so often applied in education, yes?) We laugh at God's messy and, in the end, endearing journey to peace; this gives us permission to laugh at our own and find the grace (and surprisingly available time out chair or facsimile thereof) to also try, try again.
On a totally (or at least somewhat!) note, I am going to be featured on another podcast! Tomorrow night (Wednesday, February 25) at 6:45 CST, I will appear on Darkwood Brew, a cool online worship and theological community that is centered in Omaha. Via Skype, I will be sharing my thoughts on gratitude, child-likeness, the Kingdom of God, and the Parable of the 11th Hour Laborer (Matthew 20:1-16). Should be a lot of fun! You can watch this episode live tomorrow night, or anytime thereafter, at http://darkwoodbrew.org/. Share with friends, too!