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We’ve been reading between the lines of Solomon’s wisdom literature. Today we take a voyeuristic look at what’s behind his graphic poetry in Song of Solomon.
Solomon and his bride depict a free but connected sexuality that has not been damaged by the two powerful belief systems of our modern times: fundamentalism and secularism.
1. Fundamentalism. Sex remains today a cultural taboo because fundamentalism has convinced us that sexuality is wrong, depraved, inappropriate or at least a deeply private matter. Human sexuality not really celebrated in fundamentalism, but only tolerated within the narrowest of confines. This vein runs so deep, that even sexual attraction has become synonymous with the sin of lust. This is a poor interpretation of “epithumia” (Greek) translated as “evil desire” but actually means “over desire”. Fundamentalism has lied to the world by telling us that our sexual desires are sinful and need to be eradicated if we would please God. Self-governing our sexuality is wise, but vilifying it corrupts the gift.
The damage this does to humanity is incalculable. Sexual energy and the experience of our sexuality is no more a sin than the capacity and desire for food. (For more read: The Food Network and Porn ) The sex=sin equation is highly effective and plays into the narrative that religion uses to keep people afraid, repentant, and dependent on a purification system. Sexual shame fills pews and creates a living hell in marriages.
2. Secularism. Many who won’t subscribe to the fear tactics of religion have given full vent to their sexual appetite. While free from the trap of fundamentalism, they fall headlong into the trap of secularism. Timothy Keller said that appetites are not good gauges. Our humanity is diminished if wisdom does not counter-balance our appetites. Sexuality, just like food, has a beautiful and meaningful purpose in our lives, but just because we want something and are free to have it, doesn’t mean we should.
The damage this does to humanity is incalculable. Appetites grow and morph over time. The result is that without wisdom, we lose our humanity as we objectify one another and erode our capacity for true intimacy and knowing. Sexuality has become a commodity that is parceled out piece meal into a culture that can no longer tell the difference between a subject and an object. While free from fundamentalism, this is anything but the liberation it promises. Free sex is never free. Casual sex is an out of tune soul and creates a living hell because is neglects love.
The Song of Solomon represents the highest goal in human sexuality. The wisdom tradition offers the vast freedom of “anything goes” so long as it falls under the law of love. Sex apart from the wisdom and law of love is degrading, dehumanizing and selfish. Love (eros kind) apart from the sexual intimacy can hardly be called love at all. (Sexual intimacy need not be intercourse) Love is not surface level and sexuality should not be either. Love doesn’t hold anything back. Love gives itself completely away. If we have sex without love, we are just acting creaturely or biochemically and not fully human. We disrespect our bodies, our self, and our Maker.
Now we have lens to read Solomon’s poem. We should not blush, apologize nor spiritualize this amazing book of poetry. It proves that porneia (sexual sin) is harmful not because it reveals too much, but because it reveals too little. If this was our only spiritual book, our faith could be amazing.
Ideal sexuality emerges from the bedrock of love. Love makes each person totally free and totally empowered. Love expands in the presence of others, longs for, and needs others to manifest itself. Love accepts us as well as the other. Love is the third, larger thing that both parties fall/merge into. It has no bottom, but is diminished when only one person withholds. Thus, sex is the bi-product of love, not vice-versa. Order is important.
These lovers showcase the best definition. It elevates sex by marital commitment. It proves they take the whole person’s life, not just their body. These poems illuminate that graphic sexuality can be beautiful. Yes, honoring sexuality requires some discretion, but it must not be completely hidden or else something is lost? If these poems were a movie, would it offend you? Would it be a sin to watch? Would you rather your kids kill one another playing Fortnight than to see it? How easily we have traded true love for foolish piety.
These poems are here to wake us up to the power of love. The bride offers wisdom to her young entourage which essentially says: “You need to know that love like this exists, but don’t awaken this kind of love until it pleases.” In other words, let love do what love does. When it grips you, don’t resist it. If it’s love there is no need to play it safe. If you can’t tell the difference, then stay put, stay single, stay hopeful and ever learning.
When I was growing up, church taught me not to have sex instead of how to love. This gave me license to “not have intercourse” with the girls I dated. Little did I know that all the “outercourse” in the world only taught me to objectify the women I was supposed to learn how to love. Most people’s sexual pasts are even more jacked up than this, so is it any wonder our world is in need of some serious sexual healing?
Well, its possible. Not by rewinding the clock. Not by some revirgination ceremony but by finally learning to love. (Where are your accusers?) All the broken, depraved, selfish, and dehumanizing sex can be redeemed in love. Victims of abuse need not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Love and trust go together, and next week we will explore how we sadly confuse the order of these two things as well.
(For more see Getting Better When You Can’t or Divine Sex )