Meeting God at the Rainbow
By Al Cornell
The second and third verses of the Bible bring together these words, “… the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” I do not think it is a coincidence that God introduced two of the most fascinating enigmas of the physical world — water and light — within the first three verses of Genesis.
Lists have been compiled of the unique characteristics of water and the water molecule. All life, as we know it on earth, depends significantly on this amazing liquid.
Ian Stewart, in Why Beauty Is Truth, gives this brief insight into light, “Light is so familiar to us that we seldom think about how weird it is. It seems to weigh nothing, it penetrates everywhere, and it enables us to see. What is light? Electromagnetic waves. Waves in what? The space/time continuum, which is a fancy way of saying, ‘we don’t know.’”
Something special can happen when these two enigmas of physics come together. Light, traversing space at 186,282.4 miles per second, slows down to about ¾ of that speed when it travels through the denser water. However, the light is composed of a range of electromagnetic wave lengths and along that spectrum of wave lengths there is variation in the amount of slowdown. I could never have imagined that white light is composed of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, but this spectrum emerges from raindrops and prisms.
Anytime you stand facing a rainstorm with your back to bright, low-angle sunlight, that spectrum of colored light appears in the clouds. White light entering a raindrop divides into a spectrum of colors. That light, reflected from the backside of raindrops travels to your eye. The red comes to you from the drops that create the top of the bright colored arc and the other colors are progressively lower — orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and finally violet.
The resulting rainbow is mentioned in only six Bible verses. Three are in Genesis chapter nine, culminating with verse 16, “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it ….” Other translations render this, “… I will look upon it ….” So whenever you are looking at a rainbow, know for sure you are not alone. There is a greater being and higher consciousness observing that rainbow.
It might be a little awkward to imagine that you are just doing something fun with God. However, take a leisurely look at a rainbow and sense the presence of God there doing what He promised.
Like the tree of life, the rainbow occurs in Genesis, Revelation, and only one Bible book in between. In 1:28 Ezekiel describes his vision of a radiance like a rainbow around the one on the heavenly throne.
In Revelation 4, John is invited to enter a door to that throne room scene. He sees the one on the throne, but encircling that throne he sees, “A rainbow, resembling an emerald.” I always struggled at the thought of a green rainbow. It seemed like a contradiction of terms. Rainbows require a variety of colors, but emerald is green. There is no one-colored rainbow on earth, nor perhaps in this heavenly vision.
The etymology of the word “emerald” that occurs in Wikipedia includes references to it likely deriving from Semitic words meaning “lightning” or “shine.” Examples given include a Hebrew word. So while in English we think of color when we hear the word emerald, I think John, being Semitic, probably spoke of brilliance or illumination. The word rainbow should already have addressed the matter of color.
So, the rainbow around the throne shone with the luster of an emerald. Today’s New International Version captures this essence of that rainbow vision with the words, “A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne.” The Easy-to-Read Version reads, “… a rainbow with clear colors like an emerald.”
With the rainbow being so scripturally tied to the presence of God, its radiance helps us perceive attributes of God. God cannot be fully comprehended from earth, but the bow in the clouds can help narrow the gap. Paul informed us in Romans 1:20 that we can perceive attributes of God from the creation. This special relation of rainbows on earth and in heaven to the presence of God puts them in position to help us understand the magnificence and glory of God. We come closer to realizing why God splashed beauty throughout His creation and designed a creature in His image that can appreciate that beauty. God created the potential for color in the electromagnetic field, created many animals equipped to perceive the color, and created us with the capacity to appreciate its beauty. And He placed the rainbow in the cloud. The pathway to atheism would be a little easier in a cosmos without rainbows.
A human fable imagines a treasure at the end of the rainbow. With Ezekiel’s and John’s visions of heaven, it is revealed that what we need to be seeking resides at the center of the endless rainbow. So when you reach that point in life where there is no longer an opportunity to look at an earthly rainbow, by the grace of God, you can step through the door to see a brilliant one encircling the throne. And there too is God.