The drops danced across the glass in gleeful disarray, slipping and sliding in every which way, hurrying to go everywhere and yet with nowhere to go. An ever-morphing constellation, spheres of crystal bending and shattering across the canvas of the window, they were at one moment companions of many, and the next rogue wanderers alone; their number was impossible to count, their pattern indecipherable, their beauty incomprehensible.
As such, rainy days are some of most beautiful. The world itself seems to curl up and move closer to the fire. The land is engulfed in overcast; the colors seem to turn down and dim. Lights dance upon the pools of water; foliage renew their strength. The streets cease their aimless rushing; homes welcome their lost travelers.
There are many types of good days. But give me a rainy day, with a warm and safe home, a cup of hot tea, and a conversation to delight the soul, and all my cares and worries seem to wash away.
But as good as rain is, it was not always so. The first time it rained on the earth, before windows and city lights, before fireplaces and tea, there was no beauty in the hush of rain.
There was only wrath.
A Rain of Wrath
Genesis 6 tell us that in the post-sin, pre-flood world, the wickedness of man was exceedingly great. Every intent of every thought of every heart was only evil always. Mankind was corrupt, violent, arrogant, haters of God, insolent, boastful, full of lust, slaves to their pleasure, lovers of self rather than lovers of God. Love, mercy, kindness, justice, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, were estranged from the world. It was a world ripe for judgment.
And how did God bring this judgment? Genesis 7:11-12 tell us: water from the fountains of the deep and water from the floodgates of the sky — rain. When the Lord first sent rain on the earth (c.f. Gen 2:4), its sole purpose was to destroy. “For after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights; and I will blot out from the face of the land every living thing that I have made" (Genesis 7:4). It brought only death and judgment.
Rain then, is a reminder of the fierce wrath of God. By it, He judged the whole world.
A Rain of Mercy
But, immediately after the flood, God completely inverted the purpose of rain. He takes the very instrument of His wrath to produce the sign of the covenant of mercy, a promise to never again flood the earth in wrath. The sign of that covenant: a rainbow.
"I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. …When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Genesis 9:13,16).
By placing a rainbow in the sky, God reminds all the earth that He has set His bow in the cloud, that has laid aside His weapon of destruction. It is a sign of His covenant that He made in love and gracious mercy.
But, how do you make a rainbow?
You first make it rain.
In this sign of the covenant, God takes all that mankind has known about rain — wrath, destruction, judgment — and turns it on its head, uniting instead it with mercy, grace, and peace. Every time it rains, we are reminded again of this promise by the sight of the soon-coming rainbow. This rain does not come in wrath. This rain comes in mercy.
From this point on, rain has been a symbol of mercy and blessing. As Moses promised to Israel, rain would be a sign of God's favor upon them: "It shall come about, if you listen obediently… to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, that He will give the rain for your land in its season…" (Deuteronomy 11:13-14). [See also 1 Kings 8:35-36.]
Yet, the blessing of rain is not only upon an obedience Israel. As the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, "[God] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Sun and rain for crops, for life, for rainbows — and thus again, reminders of mercy.
God in His mercy has sent His sun and His rain upon both the righteous and the unrighteous, both Jews and Gentiles, both the pious and sacrilegious, so that they would live and prosper according to His merciful provision. Such is His generous mercy not only to Israel, but to all the world.
Beauty in the Both/And
So then, rain is a rich, full-orbed concept in the flood narrative. It is a perfect symbol of both judgment and mercy, a reminder of God's fierce wrath and of His unfailing love for sinners. But, of course, rain does not stand alone in this aspect; this both/and imagery is all over the Scriptures.
- In blood, that dirty, gruesome sign of life, we see the shedding of the blood of the Lamb for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).
- In that unjust, brutal crucifixion of Christ, the only Perfect Man, we see His life given as a ransom for the salvation of many (Mark 10:45).
- In our regret about past mistakes, sins, and the scars that follow, we know that God has ordained it for our good, for "[He] causes all things to work together for good of those who love Him" (Romans 8:28).
- In our deepest suffering and pain, we can say, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, / That I may learn Your statutes" (Psalm 119:71).
- In our weakness and failing, we see God's perfect power (2 Corinthians 12:9).
- In our lament over indwelling sin, we are taught to long and groan for that perfect world to come (Romans 8:22).
- In our death and the death of our loved ones, we preach to ourselves, "To live is Christ; to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).
The point? God is a God of redemption, strong enough to take the rain, the cross, the regret, the suffering, the sin, and death — yes even death — and make them shining beacons of His glory. He is the God who exalts the humble, raises up the lowly, redeems the sinner, and heals the hurting, protects the broken. In Him, the God of miracles, the God "who is able to do far more abundantly above all that we ask or think," (Ephesians 3:20), there is always hope of redemption. He can take it all, and make something beautiful.
Even a rainbow.