When it rains… look for rainbows.
Our son Tom quoted this message from a T-shirt today, as we finished off our lunch and looked out the window at the rain.
The imagery of the rainbow is used by peace activists, the queer community, sunday school teachers, and more. It draws its formative significance, of course, from the story of the flood in Genesis. I found myself thinking of how that story is framed, both as a complete story, and within the book of Genesis as a whole.
The whole Bible is framed by what we call progressive revelation, where truth is gradually (or progressively) revealed as the story or narrative goes forward. In the same way, individual stories (or sets of stories) within the Bible follow the same principle.
Sometimes, a story or stories progress and combine to strengthen a belief about God. The ‘lost’ stories of Jesus (lost sheep, lost coin and lost son) in Luke, for example, go together as a set of stories revealing the nature of God as a Shepherd/Woman/Father who seeks out what is lost. A point any reader of the Old Testament would have known, but that Jesus intensifies.
Other times, stories progress and combine to re-shape or develop a belief about God. The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, among its other purposes, is revealing that God is not the sort of God that demands a child sacrifice. Yahweh is not like the other ‘normal’ gods of that time and place, for whom it was ‘normal’ to appease by offering your child. People who imagine God to be a child-sacrifice-demanding God find this not to be the case. This story carries through into the New Testament beautifully, with God providing not only a ‘ram’ instead of Abraham’s son, but providing himself through his only Son, who was the ‘Lamb’ of God. Likewise, in Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28, we have a story which challenges the existing Jewish expectations of what the Messiah would be like. Jews of the day (including Jesus himself it appears!) would have imagined the Messiah to be coming ‘for’ or ‘to’ the Jews, to save them from the Gentiles. But this beautiful, wise and persistent Gentile (Syro-Phonecian) woman shows them (and Jesus!?) that the community of faith was not limited to Jews only.
It seems the flood story both strengthens and develops existing beliefs about God. Like the previous stories in Genesis 1-5, the flood story pictures God as not merely a God who is grieved and angry over human failure and sin (as seen in the expulsion from the garden, the curse, and the judgment of the flood), but a God who seeks out his children to restore and bless them (as seen in the provision of clothes, the provision of children to Adam and Eve, and the promise of mercy seen in the rainbow).
This pattern permeates the whole of Scripture. God is not like we imagined – or feared. God is holier and stronger than we dared believe, and more merciful and gentle than we dared hope.
And that is why they call it Good News.