Is it possible that the almost painful feelings we get from the beauty and innocence of rainbows, trout streams, babies, and art aren’t random neurons firing, but echoes of something that has been spoken to us? Something we heard but forgot when we stopped singing songs of innocence and started singing songs of experience?
Some think so. Others don’t.
“God is not some chief executive who sits behind a control panel and calls all the shots. I don’t believe in a god who answers prayers. At the same time, I think there is a reality behind what we can see with our eyes…something large and mysterious and eternal and unknowable,” said bestselling author Johnathan Franzen, during a 2004 interview in New York’s upper east side.
Meanwhile in Yosemite, there’s a dude named Yosemitebear62.
“Double rainbow all the way across the sky! Ohhh!” he cried and moaned five years ago. The camera in his hand shakes as he begins to weep and laugh uncontrollably. “What does it mean? It’s so bright and vivid! It’s so beautiful. Please tell me what it means!”
It means sunlight cuts through water and creates colorful arches, stoner, big deal. It went viral. We all laughed. He got auto-tuned. He went Kimmel. His 15 minutes are over.
It may be silly, but for Yosemitiebear62 (aka Paul Vasquez), the double rainbow seemed to mean a lot more than random molecules. It was a message. Unlike Franzen, as crazy as it sounds, Vasquez felt like the “unknown force” was calling the shots and it was speaking directly to him. At least that’s the way he saw it:
“I knew that it meant something. …I was not high. I was all alone in my front yard and I recognized I was in the presence of God. …God was looking at me, but I didn’t know why God would choose to look upon me. Just like a double rainbow is a mirror of itself, my video is a mirror into the people watching it. What you see and hear in that video. …That’s in you.”
The rainbows triggers something in Vasquez, maybe a nostalgia, a longing that leads us to questions like: Does it all mean anything? And, if you haven’t asked that question, then maybe you haven’t hit your ten-year high school reunion yet, or seen “almost a triple rainbow.” From what I gather, Vasquez isn’t a classically-trained theologian or philosopher, but he tapped into this idea that modern minds have been trained to explain away – rainbows, light and water, big deal.
Hundreds of years before the advent, Stoic Greek philosophers looked at rainbows and the stars and the sun rising and setting in the same place each day. They looked at their ability to reason, think, govern and apply ethics. They had an altar in Athens “to a god unknown” and a poem about the one “in whom we live and move and have our being.” They saw the design and sustainment of natural order as evidence of an unseen, divine force they called the “Logos” – a truth that holds the universe together.
John’s gospel, by no mistake, opens with these words:
“In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” John 1:1-3
The statement is simple. The ideas are profound. John makes the most exclusive truth claim imaginable, one that, if correct, gives ultimate authority to everything Jesus says and does. He is the incarnation of the triune God. He is the truth behind everything that you see. He is the uncaused cause. He is also, almost preeminently, a communicator. The very act of creation was communication. The author of Hebrews tells us that he “upholds all things by the word of his power” – a spoken word which is stronger and infinitely more stable than the theoretical physics of dark matter and dark energy (an attempt to explain what we still can’t explain). He speaks and his story is all around us. Jesus did not simply create truth, and come to testify to the truth, he is truth personified.
For anyone who has been frustrated with a desire to understand this universe and their place in it, who cannot come to a place of contentment, there is simple beauty in John’s introductory statement. It holds an answer to that unattainable longing that makes you laugh and weep and search for meaning (maybe not quite like Yosemitebear62), but that desire comes from our creator, and our creator came to us so that we would see and know the truth and be set free to sing songs of innocence again.
Jesus gives a face, a voice and a heart to what must be a scary notion of an “unseen force” that exists but is disconnected and unconcerned with our existence. Franzen is right that there is a reality behind what we can see, and God is not some chief executive who sits behind some control panel, but he is wrong in his assertion that God does not answer prayer. Jesus demonstrates that God cares about each of us. John’s gospel goes on to show, through signs and teaching, that that Jesus is intimately concerned with our joy, our sickness, our doubt, our desires, our trials, our blindness, even our death. He gives purpose to everything. He is the purpose, the Logos, behind everything, even double rainbows.