Over the years I have heard a number of heteronormative Christians, some of them friends of mine, some of them complete strangers, complain about the LGBT appropriation of the rainbow as our symbol. “It was meant as a promise from God,” they complain, pointing to the story of Noah and the Flood in Genesis. And they’re right. That was the original symbolic meaning of the rainbow.
We are all familiar with the story of Noah’s ark, I trust, but let’s do a quick recap of it anyway. God sees how wicked His creatures have become apart from him and, despairing at the suffering and evil he sees in world, decides to destroy everything with a massive flood. But a certain man named Noah pleads with God to spare him and his family. After hearing the man’s case, God agrees and tells him to build a boat, collecting two of each animal. The flood comes, lasting 40 days and nights, and then the waters recede. When it’s all over, God puts a big rainbow in the sky as a promise that he would never destroy the world like that again.
So once again, our detractors are correct in saying that the rainbow was originally supposed to signify God’s promise to Noah. And even now that we know how rainbows are naturally formed, I still believe they hold that meaning. Yet our detractors are wrong to think the LGBT community’s use of the symbol is somehow a betrayal of that original meaning and therefore an affront to God.
In C.S. Lewis’s fantasy novel, The Silver Chair, there is a scene where a certain sequence of words the heroes see carved in giant letters are explained to have originally had a different meaning than has been understood by the children and Puddleglum. It is explained that they used to be part of a longer phrase that pointed to the greatness of the civilization that built the city, now in ruins, which stands over them. This is thought by the speaker to cancel out the meaning the children gleaned from the words they saw. But on the heels of this Puddleglum offers the counter explanation that “[Aslan] was there when the giant king caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.” (Lewis, The Silver Chair)
Why am I quoting from a children’s fantasy novel? Because I think the point Puddleglum makes about the letters cut by the Giant King is just as applicable to God’s sending of the rainbow back in the days of Noah. If God is truly all-knowing then he would’ve already known in that day all the different meanings that would be attributed to this rainbow of His, perhaps even a few that have yet to turn up. I don’t know about you, but I would not worship a God I thought to possess only limited knowledge.
So He most certainly knew that gays, bisexuals, lesbians, and transgender folk would eventually come to call this symbol theirs. He knew that and He used it anyway. I submit that the rainbow was also intended as God’s promise for those of us who are not heteronormative. Our straight, cis-gender Christian brothers and sisters can’t claim any special place in God’s heart that is not already ours as well. Everyone is special, God loves all of us under that rainbow and He wants each and every one of us to come into His arms just as we are, He wants to admire the beauty he crafted in us. God does marvelous work, doesn’t he?