If the General Synod of the United Church of Christ passed a resolution in support the "Back From The Brink" campaign to prevent nuclear war, Joe Scarry promised himself that he would spend a month in sacred study. For that month, he reflected upon the story of Noah and the flood. He shared his thoughts through his blog. In this post, he reflects upon the passage in which God's the gift of a rainbow as a sign of the covenant.
A lot of people think the rainbow represents God's promise to us. That's certainly what I have always thought. "I promise: never again with the flood thing."
But now I'm looking at the words more closely, and I'm realizing that's not exactly what they say. Instead of saying, "I'm making a promise to you"—one way, all the commitment on one side—or even "We've got a deal"—tit for tat, I'll hold up my end if you hold up your end—the words speak of being in covenant.
The word "covenant" is root in the word "convene"—to come together, to assemble. It is used seven times in this part of the Noah story, and the Message Bible translation I have cited here emphasizes the "coming together" aspect of the word covenant each time it is invoked:
"I'm setting up my covenant with you including your children who will come after you, along with everything alive around you."
"I'm setting up my covenant with you that never again will everything living be destroyed by floodwaters"
"the covenant I am making between me and you and everything living around you and everyone living after you."
"my rainbow . . . a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth"
"my covenant between me and you and everything living,"
"the eternal covenant between God and everything living, every last living creature on Earth."
"the covenant that I've set up between me and everything living on the Earth."
I notice an emphasis not just on God coming together with people living now, but also an emphasis on all of us coming together with all generations; and not just God with humankind, but also all of us with "every last living creature on Earth."
I'm not sure what the people who first told the Noah story thought this coming together might look like, or what the next disaster to be avoided was. But it is as clear as day—as unmistakable as a rainbow—to me now that people in every nation need to come together, and do so with a reverent regard for all life on Earth, both at present and for generations to come, in order for us to forestall the twin threats of nuclear war and climate destruction.
"Come together"—easy to say, not always easy to do. In fact, sometimes there seems to be a streak in human nature that incites us to separate at the very moment we need most to work together.
The big news recently was the formal withdrawal of the United States from the INF Treaty—the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In a nutshell, it was the result of the US and Russia getting fed up with trying to work together, and instead saying, "I'm going it alone from here." Reflecting on this in light of the Noah story, I can't help feeling our governments are setting forth an example of how not to behave!
I can't help reflecting on the experience of the '80s. The presidents of the US and the USSR met together and arrived at historic arms reductions agreements. The really interesting thing is that they didn't know before they sat down together that they were going to be able to achieve anything close to what they accomplished; those breakthroughs in peacemaking were (mostly) simple consequences of coming together.
The Noah story is helping me understand that, as we work on the "Back From the Brink" campaign to prevent nuclear war, the fundamental building block will be coming together with others—especially those who don't agree with us—and saying, "How can we solve this—together?"
Find the rest of Joe Scarry's reflections about Noah on his blog Scarry Thoughts.