The God we wouldn’t expect (part 5)

From a place of anxiety and restlessness about life, God calls us to a place of peace.  Our pursuits in this life are truly meaningless if we do not have God, and with God anything we do can be a place of contentment.

Life, however, is more than just living content.  There are also times of rapture, of delight, of joy beyond expression.  These feelings are expected to be found in discussions about worship or “doing right”, but we find in the writings an unexpected turn, not just a turn, but rather a complete change in thought and emphasis.  From the struggle against pessimism in Ecclesiastes, seeking to find any joy at all, we are given a book of delight, of joy, of true rapture which brings us to the bounds of human expression in all of its forms.  Though we deal with our doubts and fears, we are told that these must not consume us, for there is something more to life.  There is love.  Love in a way that humanity was meant to experience.

After we read in Ecclesiastes “all was vanity and a chasing after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” we find in the very next book, “Let him  kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine.” This is an unexpected turn indeed!  We find a celebration of love, not between God and humanity, but between man and woman.  This celebration, however, is an essential part to understanding God, though in a decidedly unexpected way.

The love in the Song is all-consuming, rapturous and living, incapable of being expressed in straightforward words. Love is not just good, and the pleasure is not just wonderful, rather the author is forced to use imagery and metaphors which evoke the sense and emotions reminding us of the inability for the intellectual nature to grasp a hold of this bliss.  The love is alive, encompassing not only words but also movement, not only thoughts but also expression, it is not passive but proactive, seeking and receiving the other in a dance of spiritual ecstasy.  The love is total, filling the physical, mental, and spiritual parts of the person, overwhelming in fact these parts to the point of faintness.

The inner force of the love drives outer expression, the outer expression demands inner and outer response; an ever increasing spiral of bliss, which also teeters on the edge of despair if the love is not in fact able to find expression.  Although there is definitely a sexual aspect to this love, the modern, popular understanding and use of the term sexual seems to be less than what is offered here.  The song speaks of a dance of two souls, reaching ever increasing depths through the sharing and receiving, delighting in and responding to, each other’s entire being.

Song of Songs itself is a moment of light in the midst of darkness.  To read this after reading Ecclesiastes is to restore the soul to its heights, to bring true hope beyond just contentment.  This book is bringing love, in all of its forms, into the context of wisdom.  It celebrates love and sexuality in stark contrast to the oftentimes negative comments and stories we find in Proverbs and other parts of the Old Testament, where so many discussions about the abuse of love and sexuality are written down as a  warning.

The focus is often on the misuse and misunderstanding of sexuality, which has led to the view within the church that has long has dominated, understanding sexuality as being essentially sinful.  Augustine and others in the church have helped to form the historical suppression of any aspect of this kind of love, and with this the suppression of the “temptations” of women.

In the Song of Solomon, however, we find a contrast to the often negative view found in other parts of the Old Testament, and a clear repudiation of much of historical Christian teaching.  We are told in a dramatic way that we can delight in love, seek after relationships, be filled with the ecstasy of sharing soul and body with one another.  This is especially striking in that the primary perspective of the song is from the view of the woman.  In a culture and collection of books in which women were often used and abused by men, or were seen as temptresses to be avoided, this song is a celebration of the goodness of love and sexuality, in both men and women.

While there are many passages which tell us what not to do in areas of love and sexuality this song tells us that these feelings are to be delighted in and are a part of a life worth living and a life before and with God.   For those who seek to fit God within their expectations, this book has often been interpreted as being analogous to our relationship with God. These people could not see how such a book could find its way into Scripture if it were to be interpreted any other way.

It can certainly be said that the love discussed in this song has theological implications, that we can make some associations between God and humanity, Christ and the Church, so it is not simply a sentimental love poem.  But the stark message stands out if we are willing to let the writing shape how we understand God and life.

Love and sexuality here are celebrated, not denounced.  While there are many pitfalls and dangers, there is a divine aspect to these forces which are truly celebrated in Christianity and Judaism.  Life and bounty are to be celebrated and the Song of Solomon is celebrating life and joy at its fullest.  The God that celebrates with us in this is the God we have not been taught to expect, but is the God that we find in the writings.

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