A Rainbow in the Clouds: Sign of God’s Covenant

A Rainbow in the Clouds: Sign of God’s Covenant

God emerges from the Flood in Genesis 9 offering covenant with a beautiful picture in the sky. “When the rainbow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant” (Genesis 9:16, NRSV). The God whose heart was moving away from his creation is now moving toward it. Five times the narrator presents a God who says, “Never again.”

I’ve said those words plenty of times to God. As a young teen, I beat a path to the altar of the local Nazarene church. I think I owe them for carpet. Each time I’d promise God never to do again the thing I promised last time never to do again. I became eloquent in my promises. Each “never again” had to be equal to or better than the last one. Certainly God was recording these. I promised to read my Bible every day, and to pray. I promised to witness to Dickie Bennett. I promised to stop thinking sexually about girls. I promised to study harder and make an A in algebra. I promised to treat my sisters kinder.

All eloquent promises. All eloquently broken.

God’s eloquence was a rainbow. And God only spoke it once. Everything since has been a reminder. And the rainbow wasn’t even for us. God is reminding God about God’s promise. God said, “When I see the rainbow, I will remember….”

Apparently the promises that matter are not the ones we make to God, but the ones God makes to us. I’m not saying that God isn’t interested in our keeping our word. What I’m saying is that the hope of our salvation is in God keeping his word. There has to be a steady hook to hang a rainbow on. And our promises don’t hold in thin air.

Maybe when we go to the altar to pray, God isn’t looking for us to make eloquent promises about what we are and aren’t going to do. Maybe God wants us to hear his promise that he is offering us a covenant, which we didn’t and don’t deserve. Maybe God wants us to stop betting our life on our power to keep our promises and start betting our life on God’s power to keep God’s promises.

Rainbows remind me that God has been doing a good job.

All this talk about God makes it sound as if humans have nothing to do. When it comes to providing salvation, we don’t. We’re in over our heads. God alone provides salvation. Our expertise is in filling the earth with violence. God’s expertise is in saving such critters.

We have nothing to add to our salvation. But there is something we can do in response to God’s saving activity.

Responding to Salvation

As soon as Noah’s feet hit dry ground, he built an altar. He took some of the animals God had saved and offered them as sacrifice back to God. Here he is, taking the very life that God has painstakingly saved, and offering it up in total sacrifice. The only way to respond to being saved from sure death is to give your life to the one who saved you. Noah built an altar, offered sacrifice, and this pleased God (Genesis 8:20-22).

Salvation, like a knee tapped with a rubber hammer, initiates a response. We call this response the sanctified life. It is a life saved by God, hallowed by God, lived toward God.

Salvation profoundly changes us into beings who:

respect life like God respects life,
love enemies like God loves enemies,
care for the earth like God cares for the earth,
suffer the pain of evil in the world like God suffers the pain of evil in the world,
covet peace between creatures like God covets peace between his creatures,
move to heal brokenness like God moves to heal brokenness.

Our life business is the business of God. Once we debark the ark, we have no other reason for living. Ours is a holy vocation from this moment on. If we go on destroying and killing, it is our own doing, not God’s.

The Biblical word for this arrangement is covenant. God offers Noah and his family covenant. There are no conditions for being offered the covenant. But there are responsibilities once we have offered ourselves. The heart of the covenant is that we are to behave like God. It’s a tall order. But our story tells us that it is for this purpose that God has sent his Spirit into the world, poured out on the church for the sake of faithful obedience in covenant relationship.

This post is an excerpt from The Dark Side of God: When God is Hard to Explain.

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