The rainbow reclamation

15 May 2020

Tim Dieppe comments on how the use of the rainbow symbol has changed during the coronavirus lockdown.

One good thing that we have seen come out of this pandemic is the reclamation of the rainbow. Pictures of rainbows have appeared in many street windows as a symbol of support for the NHS rather than of LGBT pride. Rainbow flags are now being sold on eBay described as a “Thank You NHS Rainbow Flag.” These flags are exactly the same as LGBT Pride flags.

Original meaning of the rainbow

This is an interesting reversion to something more like the original meaning of the rainbow which was a symbol of God’s covenant with creation never again to destroy every living thing as he did in the flood. This is the account in Genesis 9:12-17:

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

This covenant still stands today. The rainbow is a sign of the promise of God to show mercy for all future generations. God also promised never to disrupt the seasons again:

“I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22)

Rainbows are there to remind us of this covenant and of God’s faithfulness to his promises. When people display rainbows as a sign of hope they are reverting back to this original meaning. There is hope and beauty in the world. What may still be lost is that this is because we have a faithful and merciful God.

‘Stealing our flag’

Not everyone is happy about this rainbow reclamation.

Journalist and LGBT activist Jamie Wareham tweeted this quote:

“What I find frustrating are the people who know it’s an LGBT flag but take the stance ‘well its a symbol for the NHS now… Those people are actively trying to steal our flag, in my opinion. And those people are definitely frustrating.”

In an article in Forbes, he writes that about how some LGBT people are unhappy about the rainbow flag being appropriated for NHS support. Pink News has a sarcastic article about how there is no difference between the ‘thank you NHS rainbow flags’ and the LGBT+ Pride flags. It claims: “NHS becomes ‘National Homosexual Service’ after rainbow flag thanking frontline workers goes viral.”

God’s unchanging character

God is the original designer and author of the rainbow, however anyone else may choose to use it. It will be interesting to see whether there is any lasting change to the use of rainbow flags once this crisis is over. What will not change is God’s character. He remains faithful to his promises and covenants, and rainbows remind us of this.

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