The story of a Great Flood can be found in virtually every human culture. However, the biblical record stands alone in its dramatic conclusion: as Noah emerges from the ark, the Almighty sets His rainbow in the heavens as a sign that never again will He visit the waters of devastation upon the earth.
Much has been made of the shape of the rainbow – an inverted bow to direct the arrows of divine wrath away from mankind. But is this a hopeful sign? Does it not imply that we are in fact deserving of destruction? Does it not contain a warning, that only because of God’s promise to Noah are we spared the natural consequences of our own moral corruption?
And what do the colors and beauty of the rainbow signify? Is it not incongruous to invoke something so beautiful as a reminder that a 4000 year-old covenant is all that stands between us and annihilation?
WANTING IT BOTH WAYS AND NO WAYS
In the old Peanuts comic strip, Linus once declared that, “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.”
It’s no longer a joke. As human society grows ever more fractured, we see everyone else as either too traditional or too progressive, too dovish or too hawkish, too far left or too far right. Unity remains a dream we no longer believe in as we divide ourselves up into increasingly tribal enclaves.
Paradoxically, it is the strength of conviction that separates people from one another. Too many of us believe that our way is more “beautiful” than anyone else’s way, that only we are the chosen standard-bearers, and that we alone speak Truth while all others are heretics or infidels.
Why do we find it so difficult to celebrate our — dare I use the word — diversity? We give lip service to the value of multiculturalism, recognizing that our differences can make us greater than the sum of our parts. But then we use distinctiveness as a wedge to set ourselves apart from others.
In modern society, diversity often becomes a club to bludgeon into submission all whose sense of traditional values or personal integrity compels them to reject the moral anarchy that defines our times. Intolerance masquerades as forbearance, proclaiming an open-mindedness that is reserved only for those who conform to ideologically acceptable standards of cultural elites.
THE CHALLENGE OF MORAL EQUILIBRIUM
It was the same kind of violent division that brought the devastation of the Flood upon mankind. In that benighted generation, the law of the jungle drove human beings to an unthinkable level of bestial corruption. Had the Almighty not brought the waters of destruction upon the earth, human beings would surely have destroyed themselves.
Back then, it was selfishness and greed that tore society apart. Today, it is ego and ideology.
True, it’s not easy to achieve the delicate balance between acceptance on the one hand and conviction on the other. Tilting too far to one side catapults us toward moral dogmatism; tilting too far to the other sets our moral compass spinning in all directions.
So what is the solution?
The answer lies is seeing the rainbow as both beautiful and terrifying. It is a symbol of diversity and how much we can achieve by celebrating our differences; but simultaneously it is a reminder of how much destruction we can bring upon our world when differences become justification for divisiveness.
To truly love our fellow human beings we cannot retreat into ideological isolation. If we do, we will succeed only in marginalizing others in our own minds. Ultimately, we must take great care to chart a course between the extremes of ideology and accommodation.
So reach out to connect with someone outside your own close, closed, comfortable group. Engage people who think differently, not to debate but to exchange ideas and seek understanding. Remember as well that the most exquisite flowers, the most dramatic seascapes, and the most inspiring mountain peaks are those that reflect all the colors of the rainbow.