On Sunday, May 28, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Auschwitz concentration camp. According to USA Today, during the visit the Pope said: "In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can be only a dread silence, a silence which itself is a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?" Most interesting, it seemed as though God anticipated the question, as well as sought to answer it. For when the Pope walked along the row of memorial plaques at the complex, stopping to pray, the drizzle of rain immediately ended and a magnificent rainbow appeared over the camp.
The first time the rainbow is mentioned in Holy Scripture is after Noah has left the Ark. The former world, which was violent and wicked, had been utterly destroyed in judgment. After that dark event, emerging from the clouds was a glorious rainbow, which God directed to Noah's attention and said: "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth" (Gen. 9:13).
The rainbow was given to reassure man that though sin abounds, grace does much more abound. God is indeed a God of wrath, but He is also full of mercy.
Few events more accurately demonstrate the depravity of the human heart than what happened at Auschwitz. Nearly every kind of evil brought on by man's rejection of God and his inhumanity to man was represented there: racism, murder, slavery, beatings, forced experimentations on human life, genocide, starvation, rape, and illness. Clearly, mankind is in need of an experience of grace.
John Daniel Jones, once the great minister of the Richmond Hill Congregational Church in Bournemouth, England, put it this way:
"[T]hat dark and gloomy and threatening cloud of sin is still in our sky -- a cloud full of lightnings and thunders and bodeful of storm and tempest. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is none that doeth good, no not one. We are all of us shut up under the law of sin and death. But, thank God, I can see his bow in the cloud! ... When people tell us there is no cloud big with storm and tempest above our heads, when they try to persuade us that sin is a mere bogey -- it is at our peril we believe them. The cloud is there, sin exists. We have only to look in our own hearts to know that it exists. And sin is no light thing -- it is a terrible thing, an awful thing, a deadly thing. All the world is guilty before God. And God hates sin and is sworn to punish it. But if I had to leave it there, it would be a heartbreaking tale I had to tell. For it would be a message of doom and woe. But I have not to leave it there. God hates sin -- but he loves the sinner .... And his love falling on the black cloud of our sins creates the beautiful rainbow of mercy .... What God did in the wealth of His love in view of human sin was to give His only begotten Son, and as a result of what Jesus did on the Cross, mercy is made possible for every sinner. Christ crucified is the rainbow. The threatening and menacing cloud is in the sky of every one of us. Have we all seen the rainbow?"
The last time the rainbow is mentioned in the Bible is in Revelation, Chapter 4, when John the apostle sees Christ like jasper and a sardius, sitting upon His throne surrounded by an emerald rainbow. Scholars say this is what believers will see when Christ returns for them in the Second Coming.
The late Bible teacher and commentator M.R. Dehaan rightly contends:
"For this glad day every spiritual Christian is longing, and for it the whole creation groaneth. Where John stood in prophetic vision ... years ago we stand today in historical actuality. We have reached the final period of this dark-age and the next event on the program of God is the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we shall see Him we shall see Him on the throne, and we shall behold the symbol of His never-failing covenant: the rainbow in the cloud. This will mean that all life's struggles are over. It will mean reunion with believing loved ones gone before. It will mean that after a few years of tribulation the creatures of the earth, too, will be delivered from the bondage of corruption. It will mean the dawning of Israel's new day when, after the day of Jacob's trouble, she shall be delivered and be replanted in the land of Palestine and her wandering shall be over forever."
Could there have been a better response to the Pope's inquiry than to place a rainbow in the sky? Man's wickedness demonstrates its ugliness in every century and every generation. God in His infinite wisdom has chosen to remain silent as to why He permits evil. It is enough to know He reaches out in mercy and grace to both the oppressed and the oppressor. As Pope John Paul II said in his address during the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz: "[E]ven though man is capable of evil, and at times boundless evil, evil itself will never have the last word."
Some say God never writes His message across the sky. They might want to rethink that one. It appears that is exactly what He did when Pope Benedict, inquisitive about God's silence to the atrocities of the Holocaust, visited Auschwitz and a rainbow appeared over the camp.
This article originally appeared on June 1, 2006.
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.