First Sunday of Lent: The Promise of the Rainbow
Lent begins this year with a reading from the Noah section of Genesis. If you wish to read the complete story in Genesis, you will find it from chapters six through nine. The Noah story begins with a notice of the depravity of the people. “When the Lord saw how great was man's wickedness on earth, and how no desire that his heart conceived was ever anything but evil, he regretted that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was grieved.” Some translations use this phrase, “God was sickened by the sins of man.” Many times we come upon some real low stuff, on TV, in the movies, on the web, and we use the phrase, “That disgusts me.” All of us are sickened by sin. God was disgusted.
Even still, the goodness of one man, Noah, kept God from destroying mankind. He protected Noah’s family and his creation from the flood. Mankind would eventual reach salvation through water, the water of baptism. Then at the end of the story, to demonstrate that he would never destroy man again, God sets his bow in the sky.
Now, when we modern people think of a rainbow, we think of the colors. The colors were not the focus of the ancient people. Their focus was on the bow itself. They saw the bow as God’s bow and arrows. Remember, many of the ancients thought that storms and lightning were caused by various god’s losing their temper with a human and throwing thunderbolts and lightning at them. The Greeks often depicted Zeus as hurling thunderbolts. In the Noah story, the ancient Hebrews considered God as not throwing thunderbolts, but shooting them with his bow and arrow. But, now, after the flood, God hangs up his bow. He is not going to use it again. He sets his bow in the sky. Think of hitting a nail into the side of a wooden cabin and hanging the bow there. The main point is that God will not give up on man. This is the covenant with Noah and us. God will not give up on us.
And we can’t give up on ourselves. That is the real problem: very often we give up on ourselves. We have fallen in the past, and we convince ourselves that we do not have the power to fight off sin when temptation shows up. There is a pop psychology that says, basically, we do not have to take responsibility for our actions. So, a person says, "I may do this action which itself is evil, but my action is a result of forces beyond my control, rooted in my background, or in my genes. I do not have to take responsibility for my actions. Therefore I don't have to put up the fight to avoid the sin I'm tempted to commit." Closely aligned to this way of thinking is the concept that since we don't have to take responsibility for our actions, then forgiving ourselves is all that is necessary when we have done something wrong. We have to forgive ourselves, true, but we have to take responsibility for what we do and seek forgiveness from others and, ultimately, from God.
The question arises, though, "In the face of temptation, are we powerless?" If a person allows himself or herself to be exposed to an intense temptation, then his or her ability to withstand it is greatly reduced. For example, an alcoholic is tempted to drink every day of his or her life, even if it has been years since he or she had a drink. But if that person is alone on a business trip, is lonely, and goes to a bar, the temptation may be far more than the person can withstand. The person, though, is not powerless because the person can choose not to go to that bar.
Although we have the power to withstand temptation, the greatest source of our power is not within us as much as it is in the strength we receive from the Lord. People who fight off temptations do so due to the power of God. "I will set my bow in the sky as a sign of the covenant between you and me." God promised Noah and us that he will never give up on us. He loves us too much to give us up. No matter what our particular temptation in life is, we can withstand it as long as we face up to it with the Lord. We have to take responsibility for our actions. We have to recognize that we can do evil and we can hurt others. We have to pray continually. Perhaps we have to pray: "Lord, I don't want to do this. I don't want to be this way. Lord, help me." The rainbow, the sign given to Noah, is God's promise that he knows our weaknesses but will never let us go.
Although we are tempted continually, and although we may have failed in the past, we have no right to give up on ourselves. We have no right to beat our personalities into submission and consider ourselves unfit to do the right thing. No matter what mistakes we may have made, God still is there trying to keep us from falling into the same hole the third, fourth or fifth time, or seventy-seventh time. If God refuses to give up on us, then what right do we have to give up on ourselves?
Jesus was out in the desert with the wild beasts. And angels ministered to him. During Lent we reflect on what the wild beasts are in our lives. What are the particular things that devour our spiritual life? With the help of the angels, with God's love we can and will fight them off. True, we have to want to fight. We have to want to change for the better. That is what Lent is all about: spending forty days putting up the fight, fighting off the beasts, preparing to announce the Kingdom. We can do it. If we reflect on how easy it is for us to slip into our old habits, and have that negative thought that we have no chance of changing, then we have only to look at the rainbow and know that God will never give up on us. We can change. We must change. His mission for us demands it. His love for us makes it possible.
Today we pray that this Lent we allow God to work his wonders in us as we struggle against those elements of our lives that would keep us from fulfilling God's mission for us.
Look at the rainbow. God has not given up on us. We cannot give up on ourselves.