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.
1.6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
because the sun has gazed on me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,
but my own vineyard I have not kept!
7 Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
where you pasture your flock,
where you make it lie down at noon;
for why should I be like one who is veiled
beside the flocks of your companions?
8 If you do not know,
O fairest among women,
follow the tracks of the flock,
and pasture your kids
beside the shepherds’ tents.
My mother’s sons were angry with me/they made me keeper of the vineyards/but my own vineyard I have not kept!
This poem shouldn’t continue.
It shouldn’t go on.
Were Dr James Dobson the author and ‘family values’ his muse, then you can be sure the poem wouldn’t persist past verse 6.
Or, at the very least, the poem would conclude with a cautionary, moralizing coda to young women about the dangers of not protecting their “vineyard,” about the mandate to keep their vineyard pure and wait for God to send them their foreordained vintner.
Something tells me Dr. Dobson isn’t sufficiently subtle for poetry but if he were then Song of Songs 1.6 might be followed by allusions to the permissiveness of modern culture and its anything goes media.
But the Song of Songs doesn’t with Hester Prynne finger-wagging. It doesn’t end at all. No poetis interruptus here. Instead the Song continues on for 7+ chapters of soft-core poetry that would make Skinemax proud.
And that’s remarkable.
That this Song continues at all is gospel.
An unmerited, unexpected gift.
Because, we’re left to conclude, this unfaithful young woman (my own vineyard I have not kept!) has been forgiven by her betrothed.
He loves her still.
His love is steadfast.
Read simply as an exchange between two mortal lovers then this poem might only conjure the worst type of Jerry Springer, Ike & Tina melodrama.
Read- as it is- as a piece of the biblical canon and thus as a piece of poetry that witnesses to God and God’s relationship with God’s People, then this poem sings with a U2-like, stadium-show volume.
The forgiveness implied within here is enough to make Easter deja vu all over again.
Because the betrothed’s off-stage forgiveness of his fiancee parallels God’s own forgiveness of his unfaithful people.
What’s more, the physical reminder of the young woman’s sin (her dark skin which resulted from the labor imposed for her infidelity) now has become a mark of greatest beauty and pride.
Like Peter who after Easter could weave the blemish of his 3-fold denial of Christ into a beautiful declaration of God’s forgiveness, this young woman’s lover’s forgiveness allows her to rhapsodize (dark skin) that which would otherwise remain repulsive (in an ancient context).
A lover’s forgiveness makes it possible for sin and shame to become instead a part of a larger, more redemptive story.
Lovers possess the power to turn their relationship’s greatest tragedy into their greatest triumph.
Of course, the caution with the Song of Songs should always be against making poetry do the work reserved for prose alone. Nonetheless I think there’s a reminder here.
Over the course of ministry I’ve encountered a number of couples who share this Song’s couple’s struggle if not their youth; that is, I’ve encountered a number of couples encountering what could/should be a marriage ending betrayal.
Be it with another’s body or with a bottle or _________________.
The challenge in encountering such problems is also the opportunity:
To not let your partner’s sin be the end of your story.
To work- to do the work of forgiveness and then to work- towards making a partner’s sin into a larger story of mercy and love.
To work for that day when your partner’s ‘dark skin’ can be seen not as the blemish it originally was but as a cause for beauty.
In other words, to work…so that you can say ‘X happened to us, he/she did Y to our marriage but we’ve overcome it and have discovered a life even more delightful.
Certainly it’s easier to end the poem at v.6.
To go on requires…
It’s easier to end the poem at v.6, but, take Easter as your evidence, sometimes the alternative leads to a far more interesting story.
This isn’t to say every partner’s sin should follow unremittingly with the other’s forgiveness. The Song allegorizes God’s forgiving love of our unfaithful love.
It would be idolatrous to think we’re capable of God’s frequency of forgiveness.
This Song, then, doesn’t mandate our forgiveness in every instance. Rather, it points out the possibility of forgiveness in ever instance.
It points out the reality that when we forgive- when we invite forgiveness with those magic words ‘I’m sorry’- we’re participating in the very life of God.