For our winter sermon series on marriage and relationships, I’ve decided to blog my way through the Bible’s erogenous zone: The Song of Songs.
I’ve loathed much of contemporary Christian music not so music itself or the modern medium but for the message of its lyrics.
Too often the songs are limited to the first person. ‘I’ am the subject of whom I sing and God is made the object of my wishes and desires, which is exactly the opposite of how scripture typically speaks of God and us.
Frequently the songs strike me as little more than repackaged pop love songs with ‘God’ switched in for he/she.
‘Jesus in my pants songs.’
We called them in seminary.
The Song of Songs, however, causes me to wonder if I was wrong in my dismissals. The Song of Songs is most definitely not contemporary and from the very first verses it’s unabashedly a first person love song:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine,
your anointing oils are fragrant,
your name is perfume poured out;
therefore the maidens love you.
Draw me after you, let us make haste.
The king has brought me into his chambers.
We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love more than wine;
rightly do they love you.
This isn’t an abstract ode to the idea of love. The young woman narrating races to first base with a demand for kisses, and, we can surmise, she hopes to not stop there.
Her lover (whether he’s king of a realm or just her heart we’re left to guess) enters in verse 4 when she enters his bedroom chambers. He must be a stud, for the young woman tells us that not only does she long for him others do too: ‘…‘rightly do they love you.’
As I mentioned before, that the ancient rabbis included this thoroughly secular, erotic poem in the canon of scripture tells us how they understood it. They and the Church Fathers after them believed it was about more than a young woman and her lover.
It was about God’s People (Israel, the Church) and their relationship with God.
What’s interesting about reading this section theologically is that the roles get reversed from what you might expect.
No longer is God the first person subject of the sentences, as God is in most of the bible.
This ancient Song sounds more like many contemporary Christian songs.
We’re the ‘young woman.’ We’re the ones speaking/singing of our longing.
And God is the ‘king.’ God is the object of our desire. Erotic desire.
The theologian Robert Jenson writes that in this erotic desire for God we can find a poetic illustration of how the Eastern Orthodox Church understands salvation:
“…the Song was a favorite way for them to describe salvation. Israel does not here long for forgiveness of sin or rescue from disaster or for other gifts detachable from the Giver, as Western theology tends to conceive salvation, but simply for the Lord himself.
The longing is aesthetic rather than ethical; it is longing for the Lord’s touch and kiss and fragrance. The Lord is simply loveable, and salvation is union with him, a union for which sexual union provides an analogy.”
One of the reasons I’ve dismissed the contemporary ‘Jesus in my pants’ songs is that I feel uncomfortable singing them.
For example, ‘I’m so in love with you…’
I love God, sure. But to say I’m in love with God? Weird right?
Except the Song of Songs makes me do a double take.
I’m driven in my faith by ideas, concepts, theology and even hands-on service.
Maybe what I’ve resisted in those ‘Jesus in my pants’ songs is what the Song here lauds as a needful part of faith- maybe the most important part:
I can remember the tables-turning charge that hit me with my first kiss. And so, I’m sure, can you. Why would we want our experience of God to be anything less?
Shouldn’t our first kiss be a foretaste of our experience of God rather than our experience of God being only a fraction of the experience of a first kiss?
It’s always tricky to ask poetry to do the work of prose. Asking what it means in some deep way is to betray the nature of a poem. Nonetheless, having just read a news story about how 1/4 tweens are sexting, I think this is a sound takeaway:
Touch, kiss, embrace, and __________ are all approximations of our eventual union with God.
They’re holy things.
Thus they are occasions for neither shame (as is the case for many conservative Christians) nor a simple shrug of the shoulders (as is the case for much of secular culture).
They’re holy, good, sacred things.
As such, they should be treated as reverently as priest holds the host and as joyously as a parent holds their baby for baptism.
Or, as Jesus said: Don’t throw your pearls to swine.