In Mrs. Willis’ second grade Sunday School class, the story of the Flood did not sit well with any of us. It was too scary. But more than that, it seemed to be about something terribly unfair.
As I got older, I stopped being scared by the story, but not being angry about it. Peoples’ offenses are very different. One-punishment-fits-all is unworthy of a truly holy God.
The real problem with the story, though, is that its disaster sequences seriously weaken its climax: “…Never again will I put the earth under a curse because of humankind, however evil their inclination may be from their youth upwards…” (Genesis 8:21) Rainbows are the reminder that God repented of what he had done.
It’s easy to miss this seismic shift in theology.We are still missing it. A case in point: Christians’ gleeful recounting of divinely wrought world destruction predicted in the Book of Revelation. When Satan is released after a thousand year captivity, people will be judged by deeds already inscribed in a book of life, and those whose accounts are deficient will be flung into a lake of fire. (Chapter 20)
Clearly, third generation Christians had a harder time with persecution than their mentors did. From his cross, Jesus asked forgiveness for all his persecutors. But the Johannine community of 30 years later got so peeved with their tormentors that instead of praying for them, they consigned them to an anti-Christ of their own devising.
I love Revelation’s image of a New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, with God dwelling in it and putting an end to death, mourning, crying and pain. (21:1-6) I can almost see a rainbow spanning the sky as the glorious city descends to meet us here on a glorious new earth.
Then, however, the scene changes again, to all the bad things about to happen to all those who have done so many bad things. (21:8) Just as in the story of the Flood, the divine fury here is undiscriminating. Cowards and liars come off just as badly as murderers do.
It has been an important Christian belief that in the whole of the scriptures God’s Word can be found. But this does not mean that every scriptural passage expresses that Word equally well. For an image of a future with God, I’ll take the rainbow over the lake of fire anytime.