From “A New World Order,” How the World Began, 298-299 (1961)
As the monumental pictures of the Bible testify, the history of the whole world is set down and enclosed between this bow that shines above the catastrophe of the Flood and the end of the primeval world and that other rainbow which John the Seer saw around the throne of God, where one day the history of the world must end (c.f. Rev. 4:3). True, this road of history between the two rainbows is dark. It leads through abysses and the lightning flashes along its way. But the point is that this road begins in the name of a great love that is faithful to our disjointed world and ends in a great fulfillment, that is to say, precisely at the point to which God wants to bring us all: the Russians, the Chinese, the Americans, the prisoners in the jails, the little old lady in the home for the aged, the children who are born to us, and the dead in distant seas.
No matter what happens, no matter how meaningless and stupid the things that oppress us, and despite every human view, our way leads from the rainbow of grace at the beginning to the rainbow of triumph at the end. We can rest upon the Father’s heart and be safe in his mighty power.
So God would always have us see his bow of grace and triumph whenever life grows hard for us. Have you ever observed what happens when a rainbow appears in the sky? Suddenly the sun breaks through the clouds with a marvelous brilliancy while the downpour is still falling upon us and tumult has not yet abated. And then comes the marvel; never does light celebrate such a festival of color as when it is broken into its spectrum. And this feast of light occurs precisely when the radiance of the sun, the divine sun of grace, encounters the tempestuous elements of our earth.
We understand, do we not, what is being conveyed to us her under the guise of metaphor? It is precisely in pain and suffering, in the abysses and storms of life that God wills to declare his glory and show forth the fulness of his grace.
Do we understand this? Do we not understand it best when we look back upon our own life? Have we ever known God’s nearness so clearly as in the moments when we were exposed to the most frightful peril, when there was no protecting cellar vault to shield us from the shells, when there was no doctor to help us and no friend to say a comforting word?
The rainbow always shines most comfortingly in the dark places. God loves most of all to reach down into the deep, dark places of life. But we must be willing to see this and to trust God’s promises.
Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. An opponent of the Nazi regime, he played an important role in reestablishing religious and intellectual life in postwar Germany, founding the theological faculty at Hamburg while also pastoring the city’s main church, the St. Michaeliskirche. His book How the World Began is based on a series of sermons he preached at the church.