“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you–the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you–every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
Genesis 9: 8-13
Don’t you love rites of passage? Graduations, celebrations, and joyous milestones in life lift our spirits and keep us moving forward. In two days my daughter, Caroline, will be turning five- years-old, and she is very excited about beginning kindergarten in the Fall. Our house is full of questions about what kindergarten will be like. Christine and I are glad that our eight-year-old son, Luke, is able to answer all of her questions.
Kindergarten is an important step in life. Maybe that is why Robert Fulghum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was such a great success. He outlined some simple rules that can carry us through life, such as: wash your hands before you eat, clean up your own mess, play fair, say that you are sorry if you hurt someone, share…
His book led to the creation of many lists, such as Everything I Really Need to
Know I Learned From Noah’s Ark, which includes these points:
Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone might ask you to do something Really big.
Don’t listen to critics. Do what has to be done.
Build on the high ground.
When you are stressed, float awhile.
Don’t forget that we are all in the same boat.
Remember that the ark was built by amateurs and the Titanic was built by
No matter the storm, when you are with God, there is always a rainbow on the
You might say that Jesus took a similar approach when he told his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15)
Jesus knew that a world seen with childlike simplicity is much different than the world we see with our jaded viewpoints. My professor of theology in seminary, Daniel Migliore, used to work with inner city children in the nearby city of Trenton, New Jersey, with his wife Margaret. Sometimes he would share stories of the world seen through the eyes of the children they visited, such as the time he asked, “Where would you find a rainbow?” as he taught about the story of Noah.
“On the road!” they answered. “On the street!” they said. They were talking about
rainbows formed from oil in puddles on the streets. What a lesson! When we are looking with childlike faith we may discover the promises of God in unexpected places.
When God painted that big rainbow in the sky Noah had his biggest lesson of God’s presence. There would still be storms, especially since rain was needed in order to make a rainbow, but the storms would not be a punishment from God. Rather, the sun brought a rainbow that promised a new day. The Hebrew word for rainbow, “bow of war,” seemed to offer shelter to the earth more than point toward it. Noah saw the rainbow as a sign of hope, and after what he had gone through, he needed hope.
Hope moves us forward in life. Without hope, we can easily fall into oblivionapathy,
meaninglessness, utter despair. Hope gives us the spiritual energy to take the next step in a journey that feels uncertain. It also gives us the emotional energy to deal with the loss of life. Hope even provides a physical energy to keep going when all seems lost. There have been many experiments that demonstrate the power of hope. Hope can keep a laboratory rat swimming for a long period of time while hopelessness causes the rat to give up and drown. Hope kept many prisoners of war alive during World War II, according to a study by Cornell University Medical School. Dr. Harold Wolff found that soldiers could survive unbelievable conditions with an empowered immune system when they had a strong sense of hope.
Of course, the hope that springs from God is much different than hope based on
something else. We may have hope in our economy, our own resources, our friends or relatives, but that hope may become disappointed. The covenant the rainbow symbolizes is a covenant with God that will not fail, ever! God reminds us not to lose our vision of hope, but so often we look no farther than ourselves. Our temporary circumstances somehow consume us as God’s promise stretches across the sky with bold, eternal significance.
There are many examples of how humanity loses its vision and become short sighted. Writer Lynn Anderson tells the story of pioneers who landed on the northeast coast of America 350 years ago:
The first year they established a town site. The next year they elected a town government. The third year the town government planned to build a road five miles westward into the wilderness. In the fourth year the people tried to impeach their town government because they thought it was a waste of public funds to build a road five miles westward into a wilderness. Who needed to go there anyway? …Here were people who had the vision to see three thousand miles across an ocean and overcome great hardships to get there. But in just a few years they were not able to see even five miles out of town. They had lost their pioneering vision.
Noah needed to see God’s promise as long-lasting. When God gave the rainbow, it pointed toward the future instead of the past. It was God’s way of leading Noah toward a new horizon.
A young student asked a teacher what would happen if he reached the horizon. “There would be another horizon,” she replied. “And if I reached that one…?” “Another horizon again,” she said, “and then another, and then another…” The student paused in thought and then concluded, “Life is a series of always losing horizons.” “Not really,” she answered, “life is all about finding new ones.”
God leads us through the horizons of life to our final destination. Without God, life’s milestones could make us feel depressed because it might seem that life is slipping away from us. Without God, life seems like a journey that doesn’t seem to go anywhere or lead to anything that truly lasts. Have you ever heard, “Life without God is a treadmill, a merry go round without the merry…” ?
With God, we move through the horizons of life because we know God is calling us home. God gives us a horizon of heaven, an eternal place, a final home where all things will be restored, where there are no tears, no sadness, no evil, only God’s love, ultimate fulfillment, perfect peace, and perfect wholeness.
A family lost a child and the mother was at the end of her rope. Her son had a dream that he described for her, a vision of a sky filling with rainbows as they talked about the deep sense of loss they now faced. “Noah had one rainbow,” he said, “but you have a sky full of them!”
Maybe we have to see the world with childlike faith in order to find the rainbows God has placed in our lives. Even if we are unable to lift our heads, God will find a way to remind us, maybe with a bit of oil in a puddle, that God’s promise fills us with new hope. God tells Noah that the rainbow is not just for him, or his family, it is for the entire world and every living creature. When we feel stuck on the treadmill of life, may the rainbow remind us that because we are God’s children, hope is our lifeline.
Consider God’s promise and step off the treadmill with the courage to move forward in life with a true pioneering spirit toward God’s beautiful horizon ahead.