In the Hebrew scriptures we are presented with the rainbow as a sign of the resurrection and of God’s unconditional love for us. What a beautiful, wonderful, apt symbol! A rainbow bends light so as to refract it and show what it looks like on the inside, its colours, its mystery, its spectacular beauty. Light has a beautiful inside that we can’t always see.
God is light! Scripture tells us that. That’s more than metaphor. God is the author of all that is, physical and spiritual, and in the refraction of light we get to see a little bit of what God looks like on the inside. In a rainbow we get to see, physically see, something of God. Small wonder a rainbow can take your breath away. Of course God isn’t physical, but God is the ground of all being, the physical no less than the spiritual, and in the refraction of light we get to see something of the beauty of God.
We are the poorer for not understanding that. We speak of God as love, but God is also beauty and thus many things, the rainbow being one of them, the human body being another, physically refract that beauty and show us what that beauty can look like in living colour.
But the beauty of God isn’t just physical, though it is that. The beauty of God is refracted and seen too in the moral realm.
The gospels, for example, tell us that at the precise moment Jesus died on the cross, “the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom”. What’s meant by this? Scholars argue among themselves as to exactly all that it means; for example, the displeasure of God in abandoning the temple, the opening of a once-closed sacred place to the Gentiles, and the parallel to the high priest tearing his robe at Jesus’ trial. It’s a rich expression. Whatever else it means, it also means this: The veil in the temple separated the people from the inner-sanctuary and prevented them from seeing what went on in the holy of holies. It hid the sacred. When it is stripped away we get a clear view of the holy of holies. Thus the gospels tell us that, in the crucifixion, when we look at Jesus’ death on the cross, we get a clear look into the inside of the holy of holies, namely, an unobstructed look into the inside of God.
Thus the cross does what a rainbow does, only in a different sphere. A rainbow refracts light, bending it and breaking it down so that we can see, partly, how it is made up. The cross does the same thing, it refracts the moral realm, bends it and breaks it down so that too, partly, we can see how it is made up. In a rainbow, we see beneath the surface and we see the spectacular colours that make up light. In the cross, we too see beneath the surface and see the spectacular love, forgiveness, empathy, and selflessness that make up the inside of the moral realm.
We don’t often connect these two, the rainbow and the cross. but our scriptures do and it’s something we should do too. The physical beauty of refracted light and the moral beauty of the cross of Jesus reveal different aspects of the same reality, both show us God in living colour. Too often in our practical spirituality we make no connection between the two.
But both speak of the same reality and we are healthier when we see that. There should be no divorce between aesthetics and spirituality, beauty and morality, physical light and the cross. A sunset and Calvary, a rainbow and Gethsemane, the face of a movie star and the morality of Mother Theresa, both reveal aspects of the same reality and bear the signature of the same author. Both bend the light and show us something of the divine. Morality is an aspect of a genuine aesthetics, just as aesthetics is an integral part of a genuine morality. The rainbow and the cross should never be separated.
Tragically though we do separate them. Mostly we live with dualisms: We want to be saints but we disdain beauty; we want to be artists but we disdain morality; we want to be theologians and spiritual directors but we focus on the cross and not on beauty; or we want to be theologians and doctors of the soul but we focus on beauty and not on the cross. Mostly we pick one or the other – the rainbow or the cross.
But the beauty of divinity shines through both. God is light and God is love. Too often we take those two affirmations for granted without connecting them. The rainbow and the cross show us something of what’s beneath those realities, light and love. When they are refracted, beamed through a particular prism, we get to see them on the inside and get to see their inner colour and spectacular beauty.