Genesis 9:13, God Gives Us the Rainbow

I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.

//What does it mean that God put the rainbow in the clouds? Rene Descartes explained way back in 1637 how the reflection of light through raindrops forms a bow. Thus we might imagine, because the Bible tells us that Noah’s flood was the first time it rained on the earth, that God didn’t really make the rainbow, but that the rainbow naturally occurred for the first time as the sun came out again after the flood. But this natural explanation does rather defeat the message of this verse: that God put the rainbow in the sky as a agreement that he would never again flood the earth.

So is the rainbow a miracle or not? A friend once told me that he was amazed at the power of God to change the laws of physics in that moment, so that rainbows would appear from then on each time it rained. Wow … I guess the rainbow in Noah’s day would qualify as a miracle, then!

But if God can tinker willy-nilly with the laws of physics, it would explain a lot of the Bible’s miracles. God could form man out of the earth in his own image, by directed evolution. He could break the law of conservation of angular momentum, stopping the rotation of the earth, so that the sun stands still in the sky. He could temporarily make water heavier than people, so that Jesus could walk on the sea.

It’s funny to me how the definition of a miracle has changed. It’s funny to me that the scientific revolution has reached the point where we now consider a miracle to be anything which breaks the laws of physics.

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5 Comments

  1. Hi Lee,

    I saw the link for your blog on Tim O’Neill’s site and thought I’d check it out. It has been thought provoking and I look forward to perusing your commentaries in the future.

    Just a couple of quick thoughts concerning Noah and miracles. The story of Noah, regardless of whether or not he was a historical person, is mythic (in reference to the literary genre) not historical. The problems that would arise had the genre of the text been historical need not be. However, the question of the relation between miracles (God’s intervention) and the laws of physics is an interesting one and you brought up some great examples. (I particularly like the sun standing still in the sky). In all of these examples though something extraordinary was happening. In other words, the change is not permanent. Indeed, if memory serves correctly the longest duration of such a change happening is the earth’s rotation stopping.

    Concerning how miracles are understood today, I think you are absolutely right that most people understand miracles within the context of science: anything which breaks the laws of physics. I think, however, that this is rather sad and to be blunt Christians are being foolish when they fall into this box. A miracle does not need to fall into the category of not-explainable-by-science. Any time there is a supernatural intervention (of the heavenly kind) in the natural order we can properly speak of a miracle. It need be extraordinary, but it does not need to be incapable of being explained by science.

    • Lee Harmon

      Thoughtful response, Quanah! Why do you further limit the definition of “miracle” to “supernatural intervention?”

      • I conceive of two basic orders: the natural and supernatural. If there is an extraordinary event, but it was not due to a supernatural intervention within the natural order then it was a natural event and not a miracle no matter how extraordinary or unlikely. That said, I do not believe that if an extraordinary event can be explained by nature that this necessarily excludes the possibility of the supernatural. Since I have no gift for discerning between the two though I rarely dismiss something out right as not being a miracle and more rarely do I whole-heartedly accept an extraordinary event as a miracle. This understanding allows for a broad (or at least broader) interpretation of what can be a miracle. Even more important though is that it respects what is proper to the natural order and, therefore, it’s goodness.

        How do you understand miracles? Or do you believe in miracles?

  2. Lee Harmon

    Well, I’m not very good a “believing” in anything, even miracles. If something happened, it had a cause, and if that cause is unexplained, it’s unexplained. Perhaps the cause is random luck. I would probably consider it a miracle if I were dealt two royal flushes in a row. Perhaps the cause is interference by a being outside our sight, or our world, or our 3-4 dimensions. Perhaps this being is an omni-everything god. I still wouldn’t consider that a miracle … just a big fella interfering with us. The odds of that are probably better than being dealt two royal flushes in a row. :)

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