It’s funny how rainbows – a sign of God’s goodness – seem to appear when we need them most, says Megan Cornwell
A collective exclamation rose up from Christians on social media when photos were posted of the rainbow – and then double rainbow – that appeared over Buckingham Palace as the death of Queen Elizabeth was announced last Thursday.
It was matched by an almost audible sigh of contempt from atheists and others: Superstitious twaddle. Nothing more than meteorological phenomena. A mere coincidence.
Funnily enough I had been thinking about rainbows earlier in the week, after reading a moving article by Dami Okeke, one of my colleagues at Premier, who lost her baby last year. I was struck by the hope which faith had brought to her during a time of searing loss.
She described one particular moment, shortly after leaving the hospital with empty arms and an aching soul: “I was with some ladies from church in our living room when somebody asked: ‘Is that a rainbow in the sky?’ We opened the curtains and over our balcony was this beautiful rainbow, clear as day. We took a picture of it, and I held on to that. I felt God was saying that we would have our rainbow baby. He would restore.”
What Dami went through was a deep valley experience, and when I read her story I was reminded of my own dark night of the soul at the start of the pandemic, when I caught Covid and faced hospitalisation. God was with me through the ordeal, but on the final day of isolation, when I was coming to terms with all that had happened, my husband urged me to look out of the window. There in the sky was a bright, bold rainbow smiling down at us. Like Dami, I felt a wave of reassurance; a sense of God’s presence.
It’s funny, because I don’t see rainbows very often. In fact, I can probably count the number of times on both hands. When one appears, luminescent and brilliant, it usually evokes a feeling of joy – and it also provides a good teaching opportunity with my children. Are you ready for the Sunday School lesson?
A rainbow first appears in scripture towards the end of the story of the worldwide flood in Genesis 9. As a result of the continual evil and wickedness of mankind, God sent rain to fall for 40 days and nights, which covered the Earth. Only Noah and his family was saved because Noah was “righteous” in God’s sight. He was obedient when God asked him to build an ark, and so he, along with his relatives and animals, survived the deluge.
When the rain eventually stopped and the water receded, God put a “sign” in the sky that would be a reminder of his covenant “for all generations to come” – a rainbow. “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”, God promised (Genesis 9:14).
While rainbows have great biblical significance, they do not constitute scientific proof that God is with us. Yet somehow, something resonates deep within us when we see one, especially if it is during a period of particular challenge or adversity.
Some would say that’s because our primitive minds search for patterns – where there are none – to make sense of our world and to create meaning. It’s the equivalent of a spiritual Rorschach test, where what we see says more about our psyche and subconscious than it does about reality or the existence of God.
While this may well be the case, what niggles is this: the timing. When I saw that rainbow in the sky above my house, it was smack at the end of ten days of isolation. Ten days in which I wondered whether I would live or die. God brought me through that awful time, and when that rainbow appeared it felt significant and comforting.
That was more than two years ago now and I haven’t seen a rainbow since – until Thursday. When those rainbows appeared above Buckingham Palace just as the Queen’s death was announced, even the most cynical among us had to admit that the timing was unusual.
Nevertheless, I still find it difficult to categorically say: my rainbow was a sign from God. The sceptical side of my brain tells me it was simply sunlight reflecting on raindrops, and I just happened to notice the beautiful effect at that particular moment. The spiritual side of me suspects that while perhaps not a sign, then almost certainly a gift.
I believe that’s why, when those two multi-coloured arches materialised through the grey and drizzle as the world fell into mutual mourning, many of God’s people shared a moment of collective recognition: for one of our own was now in the presence of her king. What a gift.