This month for our winter sermon series on marriage and relationships I decided to blog my way through the bible’s erogenous zone:
The Song of Songs.
I met my beloved when we were both just 15.
High School Swim Team.
Love at first sight.
In the ever elongating hindsight, I like to imagine it was the sight of me in my banana hammock that set her heart aflutter.
Or maybe it was my strapping, ready-for-the-cover-of-a-romance-novel physique that bewitched her. Possibly, I reason once I’ve returned to reality, it was my virile voice, the Mother Theresa-like compassion in my eyes or my profound, wise-beyond-my-years sense of humor.
Truthfully I know that there was never a single attribute that attracted either of us to the other. There was never a discrete moment in time that led to our for all time commitment.
Neither of us ever made a conscious choice to fall in love with the other.
For both us, it was both fortuitous and has since proven gratuitous.
In 1.9-11 of the Song of Songs, the man, whom the young female narrator loves, replies back:
9 I compare you, my love,
to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Your cheeks are comely with ornaments,
your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make you ornaments of gold,
studded with silver.
Of all Pharaoh’s chariots and of all the other horses which pull those chariots, this man has chosen this particular ‘mare’ to love. The woman- and the reader- are left to marvel: Why?
What is it about her?
Read within the context of the scriptural canon, where these two lovers serve as a Mature Audiences Only analogy for the love between God and God’s People, the text begs the selfsame question:
What is it about Israel?
What is it about the Church?
What is it about you or me?
That God would liken us to a choice (if confounding) mare?
Just as this young woman in the Song who’s been unfaithful (not kept her ‘vineyard’) and does not conform to the consensus definition of beauty (dark skin), Israel- the rest of the canon concurs- was chosen by her lover not because she was any comparative prize.
God, our Lover, chose his People not by any rational decision nor by any arbitrary one.
God, it turns out, is a Lover much like the rest of us.
God loves Israel and the Church and you or me because…he loves us.
As Robert Jenson riffs on Karl Barth:
‘The Bible’s God is sheer contingency: he is the one who chooses what he chooses because he chooses it.
He is the one who is what he is because he is it; and for whom this contingency of fact and reason is not necessity but freedom.’
Or as Bernard of Clairvaux puts it in a less staid manner:
‘Loves suffices for itself…It loves what it loves, and nothing else moves it…I love because I love; I love in order to love.’
Thinking of God as Lover, as the Song of Songs demands, unveils how futile and impoverished are so much of our theological categories.
Thinking of God as our Lover makes clear how ridiculous is the notion that there’s anything we can ever ‘do’ to earn our Lover’s first affection. Serving the poor, while good and noble, is ultimately as futile as an unwanted box of candies.
Thinking of God as our Lover unmasks how…unromantic…is the suggestion that our ‘belief’ in our Lover could somehow suffice for ‘love’ of our Lover.
Passionately arguing the finer points of doctrine can be as false and disembodied as that picture in your locker of the girlfriend you have in ‘another state.’
Likewise, thinking of God as Lover reveals how mistaken it is to suppose we’re not obligated to do anything which reflects our love and belief. Of course we are: in love people do loving things for the person they love.
Flowers, kisses, cards, gifts beyond reason…
And if they don’t, they don’t.
We all (correctly) assume when it comes to our relationships.
Our relationship with God is no different.
Perhaps the Song of Songs shows us how our staid language of belief and doctrine should be replaced and thus clarified by the language of want, desire, pleasure and longing.
Perhaps correct doctrine requires a Mature Audiences Only way of construing God.