The rainbow is not a sign of pride. Quite the opposite, one could say. From the biblical point of view, the rainbow is one of the most profound and grave signs of humility.
While our culture chants “pride” with a rainbow flag, as Christians we must be careful. Now, I have had conversations about this with friends of mine who experience same-sex attraction. I’ve tried to learn from my friends and from their experience. I’ve questioned whether the idea of “pride” is healthy—if one should be looking at the rainbow and thinking about pride. The honest answer I’ve received is that for so many people who experience same-sex attraction, one can have the experience of feeling hidden away and isolated. They’ve felt persecuted and maybe even have been kicked out unjustly by their families. So to find a community that can be welcoming and can help someone find their identity as a part of a community, pride is the reaction against having been so long belittled. I want to keep praying over this, and be aware and humbled by the ways I may have contributed to this.
But I also ask an openness that the proper response to such unjust treatment, and the most profound place to find community, is perhaps not the rainbow on a flag—but the one that God placed in the sky as a sign of His covenant with Noah, his family, all the animals, and indeed all of creation.
First of all, we must note that the bow that God places in the sky is considered a weapon. In the Ancient Near East, one of the images of a covenant, of two nations making lasting peace between one another, was for the warrior king to lay down his weapon of war. So when God lays down his bow in the heavens, and we see the beauty of the rainbow after stormy days, God is telling us that He is indeed capable of wiping us out again with a flood, but He has chosen and promised to never do that again. God could again destroy us, but He rather chooses to love and protect us. This is the opposite of pride. It is God revealing His own humility and love. And when we see that sign in the heavens, our first thought must be, according to the book fo Genesis, not pride, but profound humility and trust that the Lord does not hate us and the Lord does not make mistakes.
And thankfully, the story of the Flood and Noah’s ark is not about God’s desire to destroy. It’s really about God’s desire to make all things new. From a literary point of view, on the surface, it is a strangely pieced together narrative. But when one takes in the whole story, one can realize that it has what is called a chiastic structure—that is, it builds up to a central and climactic moment, and then finds its way back down in corresponding steps. It’s like the rising and receding of the waters. And as the story builds up, step by step: A) God sees the corruption of all humanity and resolves to destroy all things; B) He then commands Noah and his sons to build the ark, to which Noah and his sons respond faithfully; C) the flood begins and the waters rise…C1) Then the waters begin to recede and the flood ends; B2) God commands Noah to come off the ark and offer sacrifice and Noah responds faithfully; A1) then God resolves never to destroy all flesh by a flood and makes a covenant of fidelity with all of humanity and all of creation. But at the center of this story is not God’s desire to destroy—that’s literally and literarily on the outskirts. Rather, the center of the chiastic story is: And God remembered Noah and the animals.
And all those in Israel who new this story and would pass it down through the generations could say, even when in exile and when all seems to be lost—“If God remembered Noah and the animals, when all seemed lost, He will remember us. He does not make mistakes and He does not forget!”
God does not make mistakes, but we can only find our identity in God and in His mercy. Some rather loud voices in culture are trying to convince us that our identity is either in our failure and weakness, our accomplishments and successes, or even in our attractions and attachments. “You are what you do and to whom you are attracted—that is your identity.” But we know as Christians that we are far more complicated than any such limited understanding of the human person. This is why I have a great appreciation for the work of those in the Church who continue to reach out to those who experience same sex attraction, to be sure they know that there I son one without a place in the Church—but that God desires to make us new. Every last one of us. One such great movement is called Eden Invitation. Their website has a beautiful introduction to their mission:
“What we do and what we have done isn’t exactly ‘who we are.’ These are aspects of us, sure. Facets of the whole. But who we are starts in the very beginning. It starts before we were born. It starts before our conception. It will go on long after we die. Who I am, who you are, who we are together is simple. We are willed, loved, unrepeatable men and women created in the image and likeness of God. We are adopted daughters and sons of the Father. We are redeemed through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. By the sacramental life, we are animated by the wild abundance of the Holy Spirit. We’re humans. Disciples. Dreamers. Wounded. Graced. Striving. We’re not experts, therapists, doctoral theologians, activists, or ‘bi.’ We’re just complicated people. Kind of like you.” —Anna Carter and Shannon Ochoa, Eden Invitation
We find our identity in who Jesus is and what He has done for us.
By being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, Jesus was not made holier by the water—the water was made holy by Him. By going into the desert for forty days and forty nights, calling to mind Israel’s own wandering and infidelity in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt, Jesus was not made holier by fasting—our experience of desert dryness in prayer and emptiness in fasting were made holy by Him. And by proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus was not just passing along new information—by His proclamation and by His presence, it was beginning to come about. Nothing in this Gospel makes Jesus holier—it invites us into Jesus’ own holiness, His own life, His own intimacy with God the Father.
The God who does not forget and does not make mistakes wants to be close to us. He does not want to destroy us. He does want us to find our dignity in Him, as His forgiven and loved and transformed sons and daughters.