Love as strong as death: Song of Solomon

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Today’s reading: Song of Solomon 1-8.

Our relationship with God came first. When life on earth is done, our relationship with God will remain. We were created to have fellowship with the LORD and our marriages reflect that relationship. We don’t say, “my love for God is similar to my marriage.” Instead, we know that our marriages derive from and mirror our relationship with God. Like Paul we proclaim, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.” That is why issues such as adultery, extra-marital sex, and homosexuality are so critical. They are a direct reflection on our relationship with God because God created marriage to mirror our relationship with him.

With that background, consider the Song of Solomon. Is it about human love and marriage only, or is it about the love between God and his children, or between Christ and the church? There is a long tradition of spiritualizing the book and making it almost exclusively about the divine relationship. The Jewish tradition teaches that the book is about the love between God and his people, Israel. The Christian tradition has largely read the book as an allegory of love between God and the church. The problem with allegory, however, is that it can make the book say almost anything. We take most of the Bible at face value, and I think we should do the same with the Song of Songs.

So start with an understanding of the book as a poem about the nature of romantic love including all the give-and-take and passion between the lover and beloved. This is not an encyclopedia article about love. It’s a song celebrating the power of love. It’s not so much a story about lovers as a series of snapshots showing love in action. What do those snapshots show?

Lovers see the beauty in each other. ” (He) How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are doves. (She) How handsome you are, my lover! Oh, how charming!”

Love has its own timing.  “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”

Lovers are exclusive.  “My lover is mine and I am his.”

Lovers give themselves to each other. “Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits.”

Love’s passion is unmatched.  “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.”

Starting with an understanding of the Song as an idealized poem about romantic love, we can then remember that love and marriage are based on the love between God and his people. Whatever we see in human love is a dim reflection of divine love. The adoration, the exclusivity, the abandonment, the consuming passion – these are all features of the love between God and persons or between Christ and his church. Our human love only lives up to the ideal of the Song in moments; even so our love for God is imperfect and unsustained. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” One day our love for God will be perfect. Until then, let us use the knowledge of God’s perfect love for us to enrich our love for our mates; let it be full of expressions of adoration, unhurried, with eyes only on each other, fully abandoned to one another, and sealed across our hearts until death separates us.

Image by Agence Tophos on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0

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