I love this text. I love this text today for a multitude of reasons.
- It is reminder that God loves us.
- It shows that God is capable of changing God’s mind, for the better.
- Everybody loves a good rainbow – especially a queer person like me.
- And this one might seem a tad strange, but I actually wrote 2 different papers on this text in seminary.
The passage bookmarked my first and last semesters at Princeton Theological Seminary. And what I find most beautiful about this passage and these papers is that my argument flipped completely on its head over the course of 3 years.
See, my first paper was written for an Old Testament exegesis survey class – just learning how to critically explain texts. I wrote a decent paper on this passage and how the use of the bow word meant rainbow, as most kids learn in Sunday school. Other uses of this word throughout the Old Testament typically infer bows like weapons, but I had a case (and sources to back me up) that interpretation was not appropriate for this passage. But, three years later I was in a Queer Hermeneutics class, wrestling with how we interpret texts. I returned to this same Genesis 9 text, but felt completely different about my argument. Once again, I found a variety of sources and churned out a solid paper, proclaiming that God was promising nonviolence from hence forth and we are called to do the same.
I have to tell you I have no idea which interpretation, if either, is correct. I can see a case for either one. One a testament of a God who creates beautiful things to remind us how much we’re loved. The other a call to embody God’s love through living well and setting down our weapons. But, what I find more meaningful than either paper I wrote is the way God opened mind. I don’t say that because I’m good at it. Honestly, there aren’t many other illustrations I 3
could use to highlight a change in my mind that came so naturally and easily. But, by the grace of God, I was in fact able to dive into the available information, evaluate my context, and come out with a different opinion on the other end. And I turned out okay!
I find it neat that this experience happened to me through this specific text, a text in which God changes God’s mind. I know that statement is a little scary. If God can change, what does that mean for us, as a sinful and broken people? Fear not, friends! Looking at the times God’s opinion changes, it is always for the betterment of the people. In Exodus 32, Moses is coming down from receiving the 10 commandments at Mt. Sinai to find the people worshipping a golden calf. God was ready to destroy the nation. But, “the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” God also had second thoughts about making Saul king after seeing all of the destruction and devastation he brought to the people. 1 Samuel 15:11 “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not carried out my commands.” The people of Nineveh in the book of Jonah are among the fortunate bunch as well because “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God relented from the disaster that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it.” The list goes on. And all of this follows this promise from God in Genesis 9 that God will never again destroy all of humanity. I hold fast that this is a good change!
I also think it’s neat that this is the text for the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is this difficult time of preparation and reflection. We sit with our brokenness, our sin, our desperate need for God for 40 days (not including Sundays), so that we might better understand the significance of the death and resurrection that is to come. Our Genesis text shows how God models that for us. God sat in the mess that God caused. The Lord is considering the Divine relationship with all of creation – the birds, the domestic animals, every animal on earth, every living thing – for all generations. And God chooses to relent, to give up harmful ways that don’t truly embrace the loving nature of our Creator.
So I wonder how this text might be speaking to us today, in this second Lent of a worldwide pandemic, following a contentious political election, surrounded by pain, disappointment, and grief. I wonder if we need a colorful reminder set in the sky for us to know that God is truly with us. A refraction and reflection of light that insures relationship between us and the Almighty. Or perhaps we need a promise of healing, a cease-fire, a rest from the division, hurt, and heartbreak that has overshadowed for too long. Much like my previous academic papers, I do not have the answer. Maybe it’s neither. Maybe it’s both. But what I do know is that this time is important. A time to reflect, to return, repent. A time to surrender, to prepare, and come home. I believe this passage of promise and change helps us do just that. I invite you to join me in ‘checking in’ this week – to actually pay attention to what we need, where we are, what God might be calling us to. In the end, no matter which ‘bow’ we decide we need, may it represent for us the promise of God’s great love for each and every one of us. Amen.
Kelly Spencer (she/her)
Lake Fellow in Parish Ministry
Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, IN