lyrics for living 4 (trace the rainbow)

I know CS Lewis is 'the man'. One day when I have nothing to do, I am going to go through Mere Christianity and list all the times he finds the spiritually significant in the utterly ordinary and everyday. That is the simple secret of compelling illustration and nobody does it better.

But there is one celebrated Lewis quotation I don't really like. It may well be true - but, on its own and out of context (which is how it is usually used), I don't like it.
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. (from The Problem of Pain).
Sitting there, all isolated, it does not capture enough of the truth. It is too harsh. Too abrasive. I know critiquing Lewis is worse than critiquing God for some people, but when people use this quotation on its own, damage can be done. When it comes to pain, there is more to God than 'shouts' and 'megaphones'.

CS Lewis needs a companion.
I nominate George Matheson.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel that the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

Naming God as Joy amidst the pain is bold enough. But then, just when He is reputed to abandon a person, becoming unseen and silent, it is the hymn-writer's experience that God-as-Joy is seeking him in pain - that is a long, long way from being abandoned.

What about cannot close? Not 'should not'. Not 'will not'. Not 'might not'. No, the experience of God's love has been so real and so full and for so long that when the season of pain comes, it is not possible to close the heart to God. No wonder the hymn opens with 'O Love that will not let me go'...

But it is the spatial imagery and the temporal imagery to which I return, again and again.

1. The spatial imagery is of rain - and yet such is the presence of light in that same space - that there is a rainbow as well. It becomes possible to trace the rainbow through the rain. The rain has not gone away. The pain remains. But through it - a rainbow can be seen and traced. Tracing is a slow, careful, and quiet activity. Attentive and tentative. And for this writer in the midst of pain, the rainbow, forever symbolising the promises of God, can be located and experienced ... maybe even without the shouting and the megaphones?!

2. The temporal imagery utilises the picture of hope that is woven into the rhythm of the 24 hour day. As dark as the tearful midnight may appear to be - it is never the ultimate, or the final, reality ... because the tearless morn is on the way. The (rainbow) promise is not vain. This is a truth to know, but also a truth to feel. Read Martin Luther King's Strength to Love - or, mingle with God's harassed people around the world ... or, live in this hymn and the significance of hope comes alive.

And of course hope can only ever mean something for people in the midst of pain, or persecution. Why long for something better when the good times roll? When things are comfy and cruisey, why wait for something better? Dawn means zilch if life is lived always in the daylight ... and when that happens, a central strand of biblical teaching gets quietly excised from our experience. Hope is drained of any significance. Life can be lived without it.

It is at the (temporal) dawn that the Sun - often hidden, yet still reflected in the (spatial) rainbow - becomes gloriously visible. The book of Revelation shows us that as bad as things can be right now, it is never the end of the story. That Sun (God) is in control. The Son (Jesus) wins. Believers way back then rested their lives on this hope - as do pained and persecuted believers all around the world today. So can I - and so can you. It is possible to let George's words become our words too.

Here, have a go at singing along with this recording of the hymn. A motley-looking bunch of students randomly gather to fill a cathedral with the most exquisite sound (our verse starts at 1.18).

If interested, the earlier posts in this lyrics for living series can be found here:
touched by a loving handa thrill of hope; and dews of quietness.
Catch you next month.

nice chatting



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