June is Pride Month, and I have been thinking a lot about the symbols used during this time of the year. Of course, the most common symbol is the rainbow.
The rainbow flag was created in 1978 by artist, designer, Vietnam War veteran, and then-drag performer Gilbert Baker. He was commissioned to create a flag by another gay icon, politician Harvey Milk, for San Francisco’s annual pride parade. The different colors in the flag were meant to represent togetherness since LGBTQ folx come from all races, ages, and genders, and rainbows are both natural and beautiful.
There is also a theological meaning behind the rainbow that might surprise some folx.
The rainbow appears in the story of Noah and the flood in Genesis 9. There are countless creation stories in history, many of which predate the Judeo-Christian ones that many of us will be familiar with. One of the common threads woven through all these stories is a narrative about a flood.
Many of these stories also have a hero, a person or person at the center of the story that saves all of creation from the wrath of the flood by placating the god or gods of the day. However, the God of Genesis partners with humanity and even creates a covenant relationship and promises never to destroy humanity in this way again.
To be reminded of this new relationship, God wanted a symbol, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.” (Gen 9:14-15)
But there is a problem. In Hebrew, the language Genesis was written in, has no word for rainbow. Instead, the Hebrew word used is “bow.” The Hebrew Bible uses the word “bow” 70 times in reference to bows, arrows, and archers. Very early translations, including the King James Version, use the word “bow” rather than “rainbow,” as we have come to know the passage.
Theologian Benjamin Cremer states that the word ” bow “profoundly paints the picture of God laying down God’s weapon against the world. God is disarming God’s self.” Cremer posits that the archer’s bow is facing toward heaven and that “Not only is God laying down the weapon of destruction, but God is saying, ‘I will take the destruction upon myself instead.'”
In this context, then, the bow, or rainbow, is a symbol of peace, a symbol of nonviolence, and a symbol of solidarity with all of humanity. With this symbol, God says that the covenant relationship is a promise to handle things differently moving forward. The Creator has made a covenant of love with creation.
Yesterday, I posted a saying on my Facebook feed, “This pastor loves you. But more importantly… God loves you, and always has, and always will, now matter what you may have heard or been taught.”
Happy Pride Month!