Driving home from Bible study this evening, I noticed clouds on the horizon. The sun was hidden behind a thick bank of clouds, but its light reflected off the edges of some of the clouds. I was reminded both of the phrase “Every cloud has a silver lining” and of my longtime confusion about the meaning of the phrase.
I knew the metaphoric meaning of the it, that along with something bad is something good, even if it may not be immediately obvious. What I couldn’t understand for over forty years was why anyone would think that clouds had linings.
Growing up, the only kind of lining I knew of was the kind in a coat, or maybe gloves. Coat linings were often kind of shiny, and I suppose that a lining made of gray material could look kind of silvery. But a lining was hidden, on the inside. It made sense to talk about a hidden lining in a difficult situation. But why would anyone think about linings in reference to clouds?
It was easy to imagine a cloud with a fluffy white covering, like a pillowcase. One could imagine that such a pillowcase had a silvery lining on the inside. And then inside the lined pillowcase was the rest of the cloud. But what would make anyone think of a cloud that way, let alone think that every single cloud was like that?
A chance comment a few years ago finally explained to me what people actually mean about clouds having a silver lining. Like the ones I saw on the way home this evening, they have a “lining” that is on the outside, not the inside. I would have called it an outline, rather than a lining, but I suppose we have to defer to the usage that goes back to John Milton’s Comus from 1634.
And now that I understand the phrase’s literal meaning, I can enjoy both the beauty of the clouds (which often move me to praise their Creator), and be reminded of the metaphoric meaning (and moved to trust what God is doing in my life). Certainly in this period of impending unemployment it is a reminder I can use often.