Recently, South Wales was badly struck by storm Callum. Carmarthenshire, in particular, suffered more floods than they have in over thirty years. Over 260 properties across Wales were damaged. Many of the businesses in Carmarthenshire were not able to obtain insurance because they were too close to the River Tywi, so the council will have to pay a few hundred thousand pounds for property repairs.
Have you ever heard of Merlin the Wizard? You probably have – he is the legendary figure in the Arthurian legends. He appears in the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth, Elis Gruffudd and in other poems and writings such as the Black Book of Carmarthen. He is often called ‘Y Bardd Gwyllt’ (The Mad Bard) in Welsh. Merlin is the English translation of his Welsh name, Myrddin, which is how Carmarthen got its name. The Welsh name for Carmarthen is ‘Caerfyrddin’—‘caer’ means ‘port’—so, Caer-fyrddin directly translates to Merlin’s Fort.
There used to be a famous tree in Carmarthen called ‘Y Dderwen’ or ‘Derwen Myrddin’ (The Oak or Merlin’s Oak), and legend has it that Merlin prophesied that if Merlin’s Oak was to be cut down, then the town of Carmarthen would be flooded. Guess what, it’s been cut down, but not recently – in the 1970s. They cut the tree down to make room for a better road. It stood for a while surrounded by houses and concrete, but industrialisation had its way. You can go and see what’s left of the tree at Carmarthenshire County Museum – the last time I was there it was on display at the reception.
Obviously, being a Christian Pastor and not at all superstitious, I don’t believe in fairy tales. So, Carmarthen was never in danger of flooding as a result of cutting down Merlin’s Oak. It was still a shame to cut it down though, because the tree was culturally important for the town. I enjoy and appreciate folklore, tales, legends and oral traditions just like the next guy – it’s just a bit of imaginative fun. God gave us the gift of imagination to be able to tell stories – Jesus’ own parables are the result of his imagination. Fictional literature has represented an important role in shaping culture throughout history, but they are just stories; elves don’t exist. Neither do hobbits, orcs, vampires, wizards, magic, trolls nor superheroes.
Likewise, I can smash all the mirrors I want, throw salt over my shoulders like crazy, walk under ladders or scaffoldings if it is safe to do so and horoscopes don’t dictate my character or future. God is in control of the events of nature. Superstition is not. So, I don’t believe that the recent floods in Carmarthen occurred as the result of Merlin’s Oak being chopped down over 40 years ago. In-fact, I just came off the phone to my father who is the leader of Carmarthenshire County Council and he says Carmarthen is pretty dry now! I’m sure the rainbow came out, in the end, declaring an end to the storm.
Even concerning the rainbow, there are all kinds of oral traditions and superstitions linked to it. For example, it is said that if you make a wish when you see a rainbow, it will surely come true. Apparently, there’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. As children, I remember on one occasion my friend and I used a hosepipe to spray water in the sunlight to make a tiny rainbow. I’d direct him to where one end of the rainbow was and he’d dig at that spot to try and find the treasure. Unfortunately, we didn’t hit gold, only a few worms.
The old Norse people believed the rainbow was the bridge between Midgard (earth) and Asgard (the realm of the gods). Some pet-mad people love to believe it’s the bridge to heaven for their pets (I’m not joking – Google it)! The New Age movement also views it as a bridge to a better place. There is a Chinese legend connecting a rainbow to the creation of their first emperor. Some might even say that I am superstitious because I believe that the rainbow is a sign of the covenant made between God and Noah at the end of the flood as a sign that he will never again flood the whole earth.
I remember telling a friend of mine what I believed the rainbow was for, and he sarcastically asked me: “Is that what your mum taught you?”, as if I believe every fairy-tale my mum told. Of course she told me that, she is a Bible-believing Christian. My mother also told me the fairies snuck a pound coin under my pillow when my tooth fell out, and that a big fat bearded man came down our (bricked-off) chimney every year on December 25th to drop-off presents, who apparently rode on a sled tugged by flying reindeers. My friend quickly learned that I don’t believe everything my mum says, but I am thankful that she invested the time to teach me and my brothers the truths of scripture. So yes, I do believe what my mum said regarding the rainbow, but only because I believe the whole Bible to be inerrant and infallible.
The Bible and Science
I believe the Bible because it claims to be the word of God. I believe it is the word of God because it is absolutely correct on archaeological evidence, historical dates, science, people, places and other details. It is right on those details because it is historically accurate. It has proved to withstand everything that skeptics have thrown at it over the centuries. It has transformed people’s lives for thousands of years. It is the most academically rich book in existence. It is a collection of the most profound literary documents in the world. It is the best-selling book of all time and it continues to change the world today. The Bible is the revelation of God given through men as they were inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, I believe what the Bible teaches – that the rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant, not because I’m superstitious or gullible, but because it makes rational sense when understood in the overall redemptive story of the Bible. There is a scientific explanation as to how the rainbow exists, as in, what it is: it is caused by the refraction and dispersion of the sun’s light by rain or other water droplets in the atmosphere. But to find out why the rainbow exists—what is its purpose—we have to look to the one who created it: God.
Science enables us to explain what human beings are but can’t tell us why we’re here. We are masses of molecules; water, proteins, fat, carbohydrates and so on. We could also be described also as masses of elements; calcium, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, magnesium and the rest. But we don’t view each other as masses of complicated scientific constructions. We are distinctly and uniquely people—human beings. We can even procreate other humans made of molecules and elements, just like us, with extremely complicated strands of DNA encoded with sequences that contain instructions to make proteins. Therefore, Science can give us an understanding of what we are made of, but can’t tell us why we are here. Why do these masses of elements and molecules gather into coffee shops? Why are we concerned about our appearance? Where do our feelings come from? Why are we here? Science does not know the answer.
Some speculate that science has disproved the Bible. I don’t believe it has, quite the opposite. Science, when performed properly, gives evidence to biblical claims. For example, for hundreds of years people believed the world was flat when in-fact, the world is round which the Bible states (Isaiah 40:22). Here’s another example which complies with what we know about physics: that God “hangs the earth on nothing”, meaning it is detached from any physical support (Job 26:7). It’s quite amazing that this knowledge should be acquired by someone who had never seen the astronomical photographs that we have seen. These are just two examples among thousands. If the Bible is truly inspired by God and is infallible, then nothing can disprove it, and nothing has.
Science can provide explanations as to how material things function and what they are made of, but again, I will say that science does not answer the question of why they came into existence and for what reason. My point is that science does not disprove the existence of God, but rather, it is evidence for the existence of God. Science cannot explain why we are here, neither can it explain how the material world came into existence. Attempts have unsuccessfully been made by many to argue that we came into existence through the process of evolution. There is no evidence for this, but even if the process of evolution was true, it still fails to explain why we are here; where did matter come from in the first place?
It seems to me, that the only way everything could have possibly come into being, is by an intelligent design originating from an eternal person/persons, namely God (Father, Son and Spirit) who is not composed of matter. Simply put; God is infinite and eternal who has neither beginning nor end. God contains within himself the cause for himself – he is uncreated and is absolutely self-existent and is not reliant upon anything or anyone else. Therefore, we can only truly grasp the reason for our existence and the purpose of life if the eternal and transcendent God reveals it to us—and he has. God has imminently revealed himself to humanity. He has spoken to and through men, and we have that revelation today in written form: the Bible. More than that, God entered into the world, he became man and lived among us to identify with us – he came to save us from our fallen state due to our sinfulness. God is a God of love and justice, and we can only understand the meaning of life if we understand who God is.
In my experience, atheists generally disregard the Bible before even reading it. The ones who do read it, though, approach it from the perspective of intentionally trying to find faults, errors and contradictions. They look for those areas where God seemingly acted cruelly towards humanity to judge God’s actions as if humanity is an innocent race. Atheists will also skeptically question the supernatural claims; miracles, healings, natural phenomenons like the parting of the Red Sea or the flooding of the whole earth during Noah’s time.
Conversely, and not surprisingly, some of the best scientists, philosophers and historians believe that the Bible is accurate, rational and logical. Just as science cannot explain everything to us, the Bible does not tell us everything there is to know, but rather, it tells us everything we need to know in regards to the question; what is the meaning of our existence? We have a God-given freedom to investigate and examine creation and to study it in order to be in awe at God’s amazing design, but we are limited in our understanding unless God reveals things to us.
The term ‘science’ in its original form meant ‘knowledge’. If we believe that science can explain everything to us, then it would lead us to believe that we have the capacity to be omniscient (to know everything)—that everything there is to know can eventually be documented and accessed. We simply can’t know everything and therefore we can’t possibly give an explanation for everything. Consequently, to understand what we cannot grasp through our limited capacity for knowledge, wisdom and understanding, we are utterly dependant upon God (the one who knows everything) to reveal those things to us. Science is extremely valuable because God has given us the freedom to investigate the natural world, but science has its limits. Most scientists deny supernatural events because they have failed to put it into a test-tube, so to speak. The word of God, therefore, is the source of this knowledge – it alone can provide the answers to the meaning and purpose of life! Science is subject to the Bible, not the other way round.
Why the Rainbow?
So, going back to the flood and the rainbow, Christians are not at all superstitious or gullible if we believe that the rainbow is more than just a scientific occurrence. It is far more than that. There is a spiritual aspect to the rainbow. The rainbow plays an integral part in human history and was designed by God only to occur when the sun’s light shines through consistent water droplets. The rainbow is a constant reminder of God’s grace.
Before Noah, the earth had never seen rain, when suddenly after the warning of judgement from God through Noah, rain came from the sky and water gushed forth from the ground, flooding the entire planet as soon as the ark was finished and Noah’s family were safely inside. As the water receded, evaporation was in process and so the water rising to the sky created this scientific phenomenon: the rainbow. This is the first time a rainbow made an appearance; when Noah opened the door of the ark following the judgement of God upon the earth. God, the Creator of light and the Maker of all things, who gives life and takes it away established the rules and limitations of science. He planned to reveal the rainbow for the first time as a sign of his grace toward humanity.
Here’s what God revealed to Noah when the rainbow appeared in the sky:
Genesis 9:8-17 – Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 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.”
Notice the number of times our attention is brought to the fact that the rainbow is a “sign of the covenant”. This covenant was an extension of God’s earlier Covenant of Grace made with Adam and Eve after they had fallen into sin (Genesis 3:15) – that the offspring of Eve would crush the Serpent’s head. The covenant of grace is administered differently by time and place. For example, the covenant of grace widened from the Old Testament to the New Testament as God was gradually revealing his plan of salvation. The offspring referred to in Genesis 3:15 is the Lord Jesus Christ who was begotten by the Father, lived a perfect life and was punished in the place of those who repent of sin and trust in him by by faith.
This covenant is a covenant that God has and will keep until the end. God is a God of justice in that he must punish sinners for committing the eternal crime of rebelling against him. However, God is also a God of love and has lavished his grace upon us by providing and securing a way for redemption – that there is a path of escaping his wrath. Jesus is the way – he becomes our substitute on the cross and absorbed the wrath of God, thereby being punished in the place of those who would trust in him and commit their life to following him. So, the rainbow was a small sign in God’s great redemptive narrative, that he would never again judge the world by flooding it, which meant it was a sign of his grace, that there is a purpose for us being here. He showed that he was a God of justice and love who forgave humanity by granting us a new beginning.
Ultimately, Jesus himself was judged in the place of sinners: a wonderful display of God’s promise that his people would never be judged for their sin, but would rather receive forgiveness and given a new beginning as born-again Christians. The problem we have is that we are unfaithful toward a faithful God. We sin all the time, but God continually forgives. Even though we are unfaithful to him time and time again, he is faithful to us and his word by providing a way and securing a place in Heaven for his children.
As a result, every time I see a rainbow in the sky, as wonderful as the science behind it is, far greater is the reason for it being there – it was a promise of grace to Noah and the whole earth all those years ago which still stands today. The Lord showed favour toward humanity and has provided a way for us to once again be reconciled to him so that we might live for him and one day be eternally present with him, with great joy, in glory.
There Remains a Warning of Judgement
Having spoken of God’s grace, there is still a warning of judgement upon the earth. For those who have rejected the love of God—the peace he offers to humanity through the suffering of his own Son—there is still a promise of judgement, not a judgement by flooding, but a judgement of eternal fire in Hell. Hell is a place where there are no new beginnings, no second chances and no grace. God’s loving presence will be far away (2 Thess. 1:9), what will be is God’s wrath. It is described as a place of eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46) burning in a lake of fire (Rev. 21:8) – the fire never goes out (Mark 9:43). Those who forget God in this life will go down to the “realm of the dead” (Ps. 9:17), the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42). Each person will be judged and condemned according to what they have done (Rev. 20:13-14) which is terrifying seeing that one sin is worthy of an eternal amount of punishment.
Many people respond to the doctrine of Hell by questioning its fairness. Is one small sin really worth an infinite amount of punishment by burning? Yes, it really is. I want to suggest that the reason we might find it unfair is because we do not hate sin as much as God hates sin. In-fact, we are incapable of hating sin as much as God does because he is infinitely holier than we are. We are so involved with sin and vice-versa that we fail to realise the severity of it. God is so holy that he cannot tolerate sin. He hates all manner of sin (Prov. 6:16-19) all the while we actually enjoy sin and desire it (James 1:5).
Another point I want to emphasise is this: no one understands the importance of holiness better than those who are in Hell. No one in Hell believes they are receiving unfair punishment. Take the parable of Jesus in Luke 16:19-31, for example; the rich man in Hell never says he doesn’t deserve his punishment, he only asks that his family be warned! Hell brings everything into perspective for the judged because there is nothing good there that will distract the sinner from paying attention to what really matters. In this world, we spend countless hours worshipping created things which we use as excuses to distract us from worshipping the creator God. The torment of Hell is worsened by the sinner’s conscious realisation that they have foolishly and willingly rejected a free gift from God himself which was provided through Jesus Christ.
It is a good thing if we are terrified of Hell. But being terrified of Hell will save no-one unless they understand and realise how much God loves us and wants to save us. Peter writes in his second letter that God wishes that none “should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). God’s call to repentance is for the whole world. If you are terrified of Hell – good! Run into the arms of Jesus.
God holds the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, Jesus Christ is the only way and the Holy Spirit shows us the path to salvation. One way we can understand the concept of Hell as being fair is by remembering that Jesus Christ, that Jesus himself suffered an infinite death on the cross as the eternal God-man to save us from our eternal death. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus Christ has earned for us a place in the most glorious of places having reconciled us to the perfect and majestic God.
Having received the word of God which reveals to us how we can be reconciled to God we have no excuse for not trusting in Christ by faith. The Lord has even set signs of grace for us in the skies through the beautiful display of the rainbow. May we never ignore the warning of judgement, and may we always remember the love of God which we experience daily through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit who continually brings our attention to the never-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Written by: Pastor Gwydion Emlyn