Reflections on the Song of Solomon

download  Recently I started a Bible study on the Song of Solomon, romantic I know.  Actually, I have been trying to find a good study for a number of years, and I finally came across one a few weeks ago at a thrift shop, no less.  It’s called “What Every Girl Wants: A Portrait of Love and Intimacy in the Song of Solomon” By: Lisa Harper.

The Song of Songs is a brilliant collection of love poetry.  Its tone is evocative and rich with sexual imagery to the point where many scholars have questioned its rightful place in the Bible.  Some believe it degrades Holy Scripture, but I believe it’s what makes it beautiful.  This steamy romance novel, and the unfolding of the ideal love narrative, goes far beyond allegorical.  And while there is some semblance between its representation of Christ and His Bride, it also speaks to us at a far more human level about far more earthly and temporary concerns.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that there is one verse that keeps surfacing for me “do not awaken love until it is time.”  This phrase, repeated twice by Solomon’s bride, Shalumith, calls for consideration.

The first time we read this verse in the song is chapter 2 verse 7.  Dreamy Shalumith who is in the early stages of infatuation begs her companions “Daughters of Jerusalem [my deepest friends and most trusted confidants], I charge you [urge, make a strong request, beg] by the gazelles and by the does of the field: do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Just a few verses later, in the throes of her passionate romance and when things are really heating up, she repeats the exact same request with the exact same wording (chapter 3 verse 5).

I think it’s a lovely concept and I have employed it on more than one occasion when I’ve felt men pressuring me a bit too much.  And I’m not just talking about outright sex here.  I’m talking about things like being official, calling each other “pet” names, or whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears.

But what exactly does this mean and how might we apply it to our situation?

Love is Patient

When someone thinks they are in love (read: infatuated, not actually in love) they often seek to speed up the natural process of getting to know one another.  Women are just as guilty (if not more so) of this then men.  Either gender might have a tendency to push marriage or being in an official relationship, but it is dangerous to awaken the power of love before both parties are ready for such a commitment.

We’ve heard it countless times and from people of all ages and both genders.  “If you really loved me you’d ___” fill in the blank.  If you really loved me, you’d ask me to marry you right now.  If you really loved me, you’d get me a diamond.  If you really loved me, you’d do this or wouldn’t do that.  While it’s true that if love is genuine it needs to lead somewhere (preferably a long-term commitment in holy matrimony) the truth is, that love cannot be self-seeking.  We cannot use the love card in order to manipulate someone into doing something they really and truly don’t want to do.  We cannot force love and try as we might, we cannot convince someone who really hasn’t fallen for us that they actually want to.

I find it so interesting that even in Christian settings we are willing to cloak our own selfish wants and ambitions in the fine print of love.  This is so contrary to Scripture which outlines in 1 Corinthians 13 exactly what love entails and the characteristics of this deep intimacy.  In this list, the Apostle Paul’s very first qualification for love is that it’s PATIENT.  You’ve heard the old adage, true love waits, but being patient is far more than merely waiting for your wedding night to have sex.  In fact, being patient encompasses being willing to wait, period.  Being willing to wait as long as it takes to woo the person, taking into consideration any past experiences, and being willing to work with them through it.   St. Paul then goes on to say that love is not arrogant, is not self-seeking, and does not keep a record of wrong.  How much different than the “fake” love we often espouse in our culture – a love that cares mostly about itself, getting a prize, and playing “hard to get.”

How We Awaken Love Before It’s Time

One of the most common ways people of this generation awaken love before it’s time is by our incessant use of social media and online forums.  With so much access to pornography, steamy romance literature, chat sites, and glamour magazines, it is becoming increasingly harder to contend for purity in a sex-crazed world.  Nevertheless, as Christians, it is our duty to place a guard over our hearts so that we do not go too far too fast.

This is unfortunately one area that many Christians misunderstand.  Many Christians mistake naivety for purity believing that they need to completely repress any sexual feelings until marriage.  However, as Lisa Harper so wisely points out “there is a difference between prudishness and purity.”  God calls us to the latter and this is what pleases Him most.

It’s important to understand here that purity does not simply mean having limits like “no kissing before engagement”.  These can certainly be helpful markers and boundaries in a relationship, but real purity is based on your integrity with others.  Real purity affects our eyes, your speech, and the condition of your heart.  Real purity also avoids any appearance of evil – even if you know in your heart that you didn’t do anything “wrong,” it’s important how younger Christians might perceive you so as not to cause them to stumble either. I love this quote by Francis Schaeffer on the topic, “Our calling is not just to be the faithful bride, but also the bride-in-love.  A bride has not been faithful just because she has not slept with anyone else.”

You’ll also notice that in the Song, Shalumith recognizes her need to enlist others in her battle for purity.  Why?  I believe the reason is two-fold.  Firstly, Shalumith probably knew the old Hebrew proverb that “two is better than one because if one falls there is no one to help him up.”  When we are in a relationship, it’s easy to lose sight of our focus in the heat of the moment and because we don’t want to do something we will later regret, we need to enlist a mentor.  My former youth pastor said it well, when you’re dating you need “accountability with teeth.”  We cannot rely on ourselves to be strong enough when temptation comes, we need to know that there will be consequences for our actions or the disappointment of someone close to us whom we admire.

Although it’s easy to place all the pressure on single people to “not do it” I don’t think married people are exempt from this clause either – in fact, I think if anything, married couples have even more responsibility and thus require even more accountability.  I’m a huge advocate of having “marriage mentors” especially in the early stages of marriage.  You need someone who’s been married much longer than you, to look up to and meet.  You also need people to go to for support when you’ve been married for a long-time and your marriage suddenly seems void of action and the secretary starts looking mighty fine.

Secondly, I think in a very real way Shalumith was telling her friends “mind your own business.” Think about the context here.  In the ancient times, women got married very young – essentially once they hit puberty.  Marriage was vital for women in that time period because it’s how they would receive their financial security.  There was no “self-made woman” back there.  There was no “playing hard-to-get” because in a very real way, it was a necessity.  So, in my mind I picture these adolescent girls gossiping like middle schoolers.  “Did you see that dreamy look Solomon (AKA: hottie, AKA: Hunk, AKA: the tank) just gave Shalumith?  Did you see her flirting back?  I bet he’s the one.”  I can see them staking out behind the well with only their head sticking out from behind the iron fence just waiting to catch them holding hands.  And I can see Shalumith shaking her head and in an almost jovial way responding “girls, mind your own business, I’m sure the right guy will come along for you, too.”  Don’t awaken love.  Don’t make a bigger deal than what’s actually going on.  Don’t gossip to the town about what you think’s going to happen before he’s even met my dad and gotten his approval.

I think both cases are possibilities for why Shalumith doesn’t want this love to be awakened until she is sure and confident that this man really is about to sweep her off her feet.

But What If Love Was Awaken Before We Were Ready

The sad reality for many women is that this romantic, idealized love they so readily dream of seems elusive and beyond reach.  Sometimes because they were manipulated by a so-called lover to “give” before marriage out of fear or a threat to leave them.

And other times, something much worse happens.  The sadly no longer shocking statistics show that more and more women are subjected to sexual violence, abuse, and assault.  The unfortunate reality is that many women have had sexual experiences awakened before they were ready, and when it was the furthest thing they wanted.  Many of these women continue to feel the effects years later even when they have found the right man who truly understands and is willing to wait.

And this is one reason why I feel like the Song of Songs is so relevant and important within the lives of young Christian women today.  The Songs help us reclaim, restore, and renew the passionate romance that is rightfully ours.  In a world that has forgotten what real love is and replaced it with a thin, ghastly shadow of nothing but lust and objectification, the Songs harken us back to a fuller and more mature understanding of intimacy and the value of love.  To fully delight in the passionate romance between two people is exactly what God designed for us and is willing to offer.  Even though our world has mired and messed up this vision, God still calls out to us, wooing us to Himself and embracing us in His ever present love, grace, compassion, and kindness.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Shalumith knew the secrets to a long-lasting, God ordained passionate romance, and we can, too.

True love is patient, it doesn’t manipulate the other partner by making “what if” statements.

True love doesn’t apply pressure, doesn’t rush the other person, and provides space and freedom.

True love understands and seeks to put the other person above one’s own needs and desires.

True love seeks to be pure, accountable, and honest with mentors and friends.

True love believes the best, and reclaims the original vision God granted to us:

A vision which knows not to awaken love before it is time.

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Finding Mrs. Right

wpid-img_20150615_191711  Read Romans 2… the whole thing, but pay particular attention to these verses:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:1-4)

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:17-24)

Contrary to popular belief, this blog is not about gay rights.  Instead, I’d like to make an outrageous claim: are you currently looking for Mr. Right?  Stop!  Don’t go any further, instead start looking for Mrs. Right.

Recently I was Skyping with my spiritual director when our conversation turned to an area of my life I’ve been giving a lot of thought to.  Sometimes we give off the appearance of growth despite the fact that we aren’t really growing.  Here’s what I mean:

Lots of girls out there want to find the man of their dreams.  They pray about their future husband and they actively search for him.  Many girls have this longing to be romanced, but not by any ordinary guy – an extraordinary prince who will sweep her off her feet.  There are many wonderful Christian and secular books out there about how to find and keep a guy, how to have a good marriage, and what boundaries within dating look like.  However, there are not nearly enough books or articles out there about finding Mrs. Right.  Because, you see, before God can bring Mr. Right into your life, He first needs you to become Mrs. Right – a woman after His own heart.  Just like you want to date a man not a boy, so God wants you to passionately romance Him as a fully mature woman, not a little girl.

You see, so often as women we fall prey to high expectations.  We assume our man should fit a long list of criteria: he should be Godly.  Are you Godly?  He should be a man of prayer and the Word.  Are you a woman of prayer and do you engage in Scripture reading on a daily basis?  He should be involved in church.  Are you not only going to church, but actively seeking ways to be part of the church and to do outreach to others?  He should be kind, loving, and patient.  What’s your attitude level like – how do you respond when someone asks you to do a task you think is “beneath you”?  He should be a family man.  How are you handling the family God has already given you (NOT the family that is hopefully to come – not thinking about raising your future kids, but the family you have right now.  How are you doing with honouring and respecting your parents?  How are you doing with keeping your brothers and sisters in prayer?)  He should be totally in love with us.  Are you self-centered or other centered – do you always need to be the centre of attention or can you step outside long enough to allow someone else to enjoy the limelight?

This past week, there was a young man who was pursuing me quite intensely.  He seems to be a wonderful man, although not my type so I broke it off.  He did all the things you’re supposed to do when you pursue a girl – ask her for a date, ask for her number, and try to get to know her.  However, just like so many others guys out there he thought he knew me a whole lot better than he really did a whole lot sooner than he really should have.  Within the first week of his pursuit, he already began calling me intimate names like “honey” and “sweetheart” and all I was tempted to say was “honey, you ain’t hardly know me!”

When you’re in that position, it’s easy to become frustrated or flustered, however, we do this to God on a quite regular basis.  When we’re with others we may refer to God on very intimate terms – we may give off the appearance that we and God are close.  We may talk about our personal spiritual lives as if there’s really something there.  Then when the door is closed and the lights are off, we realize how much we really don’t know Him.  I have done this many times myself so I write this post without judgement.  In the past, people thought I was super spiritual because I was involved in church, serving as a pastor, writing up Christian blogs, and attending seminary.  I would always post Christian messages, theological rants, or Bible verses on my Facebook wall, but in reality, I was not engaging nearly enough with prayer or Scripture reading.  I knew God on the superficial level – I could tell you a few of His likes and dislikes and a few attributes of His characteristics, but I didn’t really KNOW God in that intimate sense – the way a husband knows his wife.  I spent time with God the way you would a casual acquaintance – sure God, I have 30 minutes to spare for a casual lunch with You, not the way a girlfriend pursues time with her boyfriend where she simply can’t get enough of it.  God and I had fallen into a routine – not the excitement of getting to know one another in different settings and with different types of people.  I was essentially calling God “Honey” when He was probably thinking “Honey, you ain’t barely know Me!  I’d love to romance you even more, I’d love to take you on a date, I’d love to really get to know you and have you really get to know Me.  But you’re not willing.  Where’s that hot, blazing inferno of love you had when we first started this relationship?  Why is it now replaced by cold, hard indifference?  Did I do something wrong?  Why can’t you feel like you can talk to me?  Why did I have to find out that you were going on that shopping date from your best friend – you never even mentioned that when you rushed off this morning without saying goodbye.”

See, lots of us WANT a relationship with God – we WANT that sense of closeness and connection, but few of us are really willing to put in the work it will take.  When a man and a woman get to know each other, it takes time.  For the most part, unless you’re having an arranged marriage, you don’t consent to marry that guy the minute you meet him.  You need to know about him first.  You’re willing to put in the hard work of pursuing love even if you might lose everything in the end.  You’re willing to make a fool of yourself to let him know where you stand.  But oftentimes with God, we don’t pursue Him with that same level of holy intensity and reverent foolishness. We’d rather talk to a colleague who barely knows us, than have an intimate moment with Him.

Sometimes we look at our friends and we think “wow, that person is so Godly.  I wish I could have a relationship with God the way they do.  I wish I could pursue God just as passionately.”  You know why that person is close to God?  Because they took the time to really get to know Him.  They asked His opinion on everything.  Nothing was too trivial or too foolish to bring before Him.  They read the Bible, yes, but it wasn’t just a five minutes and I’m outta here type of deal, they read and re-read His message as a love letter.  The way you would hold on tightly to a love letter from a lover abroad who you only hear from once a month because it takes too long to get the message.  They prayed the way a woman talks to her husband when he’s abroad – holding on to every word and every moment because each call is precious and expensive.  If you’re not willing to put in even half of that effort, then I’m sorry, but Honey, you will barely ever know Him.

Becoming Mrs. Right means thinking about the kind of person you want your husband to be for you and then working on ways to become that type of wife to him.  It means self-improvement, but more than that, it means God-improvement.  Before you start even looking for that man, start looking within yourself.  Notice there are things you need to work on first, and only then, God in His perfect timing will bring the right person along.  The type of person where you can truly say “Honey, I REALLY know you” and mean it.  Grace and light for your journey.

 

5 Things I Wish My Church Taught Me About Sexuality Before I Turned 25

index In the beginning God created the earth, the sky, the sea, the plants and the animals and He looked around and saw that it was very good. But He still was not content. He wanted someone with whom He could share life more deeply and more intimately, so He created a man named Adam. God was happy with Adam. Adam seemed to fit the job description of being someone who could commune and love God, but this time God wasn’t completely satisfied. He said, “there’s something missing. It’s not good for a man to be alone. He needs community. He needs someone who He can share his time with and give his life completely to.” And so God created a helper for Adam. Her name was Eve. Once both men and women were created, God saw that it was very good. And thus the human race began.

This story is one of the first Bible stories I ever learned and I am grateful that I did. It shows from the outset that God has certain priorities for His children, and these have not changed even several thousand years later. God has intentionally wired us for friendships, for relationships, and for many of us, for marriage. God didn’t design life to be done solo, He desired for us to have people to share our thoughts and feelings with, people who could help to complete us more fully and vice versa. In community, we are given the best example of what Godly relationships should look like and how they can be fostered. The ultimate goal of any Christian community should be to draw each other closer to God and to encourage and build one another up.

I am incredibly grateful that over the years I have been able to take part in these types of communities. I pray that you have, too. Whether these communities were a result of the churches I attended, the Christian universities I went to, or the service opportunities I had where I could live amongst young adults (for a season), I am incredibly grateful for all I have learned in these settings.

Nevertheless, there are a few things I missed out on learning. Mainly related to sexuality. You see, not all churches are comfortable discussing sex and sexuality. Some are, and that’s great. But growing up, I found that sex was meant to be a private matter, something that you would just inherently figure out once you got married. It’s no wonder then that I grew up basically oblivious to sexuality and with many unfortunate preconceived ideas until I was well into my twenties. I’d like to share what I wish my church would have taught me about sexuality here:

#1: We are all intricately woven creations of God. Regardless of whether or not we have a partner, no one can take that away from us.

One of the most popular Psalms reads “For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+139&   version=NIV)

Our worth does not come from being in a stable relationship or even in getting married, it comes directly from the Father Himself. Although in theory all churches would espouse this theology, there is a lot of pressure on young adults to date. Sometimes when a person is in their late twenties or thirties they may even be asked if there is something wrong with them or why they haven’t met anyone yet. Even when statements like “so when are you going to bring home a guy/girl?” or “get a boyfriend/girlfriend” are made in jest, it can make someone who is lonely and desperately seeking marriage feel even more stigmatized. Rather than churches focusing on the pro-creation aspect, we first need to remember that God has a unique plan for each one of us and that first and foremost we are His sons and daughters.

#2: You may go off to Bible College and seminary and still not meet anyone special.

You may laugh or roll your eyes at this one, but you’d be surprised at the amount of students I’ve met in my travels who claim that the sole reason they chose to go to Bible College or seminary is so that they could find someone and get married. While the academy is definitely a great place to meet people who have similar interests and theological leanings to you, its sole purpose is not to be a match-making institution. If that’s all you’re hoping to get out of the experience, you may be solely disappointed when you leave and you’re still single and $100,000 in debt. God, may choose to give you a spouse when you’re in school, but it’s best to remember that the point of Bible College and seminary is to grow academically, to learn how to minister for Christ, and hopefully to grow in your faith as well. It’s not to find that someone special.

#3: You may experience sexual temptations. That’s normal, but you can always choose not to act on those impulses.

Many times our church and our society seems to place a double standard on women than on men when it comes to sexual purity. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, women are seen as a-sexual or able to control their sexual passions better than the men, and unfortunately as a result many women who do feel the stirrings of passion might feel that they are indeed gravely sinning. I believe that since God created us as sexual beings, the majority of us will face various temptations at points in our lives. Rather than berating ourselves for finding someone attractive or for fantasying about another person, we need to step away from the scene, ask God for forgiveness, and then move on. We shouldn’t suppress our natural inclination to want sex, but nor should we act like savage animals when we see a hot celebrity. Churches can’t ignore the fact that for 99% of people, their first inklings for sexual pleasure will likely be pre-marriage.

#4: Sex on your wedding night might not be magical. In fact, it might be awkward, uncomfortable, and even a bit frightening.

Now, I’ll admit that I am single and have never been married so I have no idea what my wedding night will be like; but I think those of us who grew up in the Christian church can attest to ideas like when we get married we will know exactly what to do and how to do it and it will be magical because we will know that we have saved ourselves for this moment. How beautiful will it be to lie beside a guy knowing he is the first guy you will share this time with? I believe that God created sex for our pleasure and as an extension of our love towards one another, but I also know that going from holding hands and nothing more into full-blown intimacy will likely not be an easy tradition. Don’t set your expectations so high or you may be let down significantly.

#5: You may be single and that’s okay too.

As I’ve mentioned in several of my other posts, oftentimes marriage is seen as the highest ideal amongst Christian groups. Many evangelicals simply cannot understand the importance of celibacy and see it as something which will only serve sexual frustration. They may even believe that God doesn’t want to withhold marriage from anyone because He designed us as relational beings. However, when we think things like this we ignore a significant population of people who may feel called to be single or who may end up never being married for whatever reason. As a church, I think we need to work towards the inclusion and embrace of all people. If someone is single in our church, we should think of ways to continue to allow them to be part of service opportunities and to create spaces where married couples and single adults can intermingle with one another. Churches shouldn’t place any pressure on their young adults to date. If the young adult decides to date on their own, then well and good, but we need to wait for God to give them the permission to go ahead rather than to ostracize them and make them feel they have no place in the community.

So there you have it. Church will never be perfect and human sexuality will likely continue to be a hot button topic for as long as the institution exists, but hopefully we will be able to gradually move away from prejudicial viewpoints into an accepting and loving embrace of all.