Rev. Charles Halton speaks at a podium with large roses behind him.
Rev. Charles Halton, 2024 Grawemeyer Award Winner in Religion speaks at the Grawemeyer Awards dinner held April 11 at the Angels Envy Club in the L&N Federal Credit Union Stadium. UofL photo.

The traditional story of the rainbow as a symbol of hope and God’s unwavering love might be incomplete, according to Rev. Charles Halton, winner of the 2024 Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

Halton, associate rector at Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington, argues in his 2021 book “A Human-Shaped God: Theology of an Embodied God” that embracing a God with human qualities can deepen our theological connection and inspire moral growth.

This perspective earned him the 2024 Grawemeyer Award in Religion, presented by the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville. The award recognizes those who have presented ideas with the potential to bring about change in the world through religion.

At a public talk on April 9 at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Halton presented examples of God’s emotions, such as regret. He reasoned that the modern interpretation of the rainbow focuses on love and promises after devastation, but scripture actually states God regretted destroying everything except Noah’s Ark.

“In the story I had always assumed, I was supposed to look out in the world and see the rainbow and I am supposed to be reminded of God’s love and care and provisions,” he said. “That’s not what the book of Genesis says. It says God made the rainbow to remind God to never do that again.”

Halton believes a deeper understanding of God’s human-like depictions in the Old Testament, when combined with traditional theology, offers a richer perspective.

“The God of Genesis experiences emotion, changes their mind, has regret, makes promises to be better in the future,” Halton said. “This is a God who is on a moral arc. It’s a God who is in relationship with creation. It’s a God who is in the process learning, even about God’s self, within this relationship with God’s creation. The more God learns about itself, the more God wants to change and be more kind, more loving, more charitable and embracing of God’s creation.”

By emulating this evolving God, Halton encourages individuals to find inspiration for their own understanding of how to move in the world.

The $100,000 Grawemeyer prizes also honor seminal ideas in music composition, educationpsychology and ideas improving world order. Winners visit Louisville to accept their awards and give free talks on their winning ideas.