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If the Song of Solomon were the only sacred text available, what would religion be like? Last week the poem of Solomon explored the microcosm of human sexuality. Today that poem reveals the macrocosm of love.
What does that mean?
To paraphrase Ray Anderson, “the acts of love are the hermeneutical horizon for the being of love.” In other words, we know what/who love is by how love acts. From this framework emerges a rather beautiful theology. Below are a few of my observations:
1. Love compels us. Our world has some jacked up ideas about love. One is that love obligates us to do the right thing even if we don’t want to do it. This malware script is constantly played over and over in marriage counseling. How else do we keep a marriages together when unloving people forsake love? Solomon and his bride show no sign of obligation. They behave this way because love so grips their heart that it pleases them to please the other. It compulsory, not duty. It’s a reflex not a plan.
This can be seen in religious systems too.
Doing the right thing the wrong way is the same as doing the wrong thing, like the religious man’s prayer of superiority (Luke 18:11). Much of religion falls into this category. It seems right on the surface, but below its anything but love. Sadly, people ascribe this malware script to their faith, thinking God is staring down with a stink-eye waiting to punish sinners. Our poem flips the script and illuminates a God who is passionately desiring unity with us. This kind of love evokes reciprocation on our part. When it doesn’t, it’s because we just can’t believe God is that loving.
This couple is not waiting for the “shoe to drop.” Nor should our theology.
2. Love and trust go together. The complete giving of oneself takes an immense amount of trust. However, without this kenosis (self-emptying) love never emerges. Protect your heart–remain a spinster. Trusting is a big risk, but its the only way to love deeply and freely. We confuse the order of love and trust. We’re convinced we will love first and build trust later. That order stifles love’s power leaving a person with a scorecard instead of a loving experience. We trust first and get “all-in” or we will have no share of love. Theologically, the Christ story depicts a love that is all-in, to the point of death. That kind of love is reflected in this story.
3. Lust only exists when we aren’t free to love. Lust is wanting a part of a person but not the whole of a person. It’s dehumanizing because it makes an object out of a subject. Physical attraction is not lust. We will be sexually attracted to countless people in our lives. If both parties are free and available for love, then attraction can lead to consummation. Satisfying the attraction when one isn’t able to take on the whole life of the other stifles love. Those in relationships are simply not free or available for another because love creates a natural boundary. Lust is the “over-desire” (epithumia) not the desire, it exists when love is not free to bring the consummation of attraction.
Theologically, this holds true as well. Idolatry is the forsaking the consummation of love for something temporarily satisfying. We turn good things into God things and objectify the Subject. Consummation is subject to subject.
4. Horizontal and the Vertical. Human love is the practice arena for divine love. Religion always messes this up by elevating the love and worship of their deity so high while simultaneously treating those around with contempt. Paul said we could worship with the voice of an angel but if we have not love for others we are just noisemakers (1 Corinthians 13:1). This is the litmus test of all real belief. There are no enlightened road-ragers. There is no genuine love of God if we compete with others instead of promoting them. James called this “dead faith” and it’s the biggest hypocrisy in the world. If your church hates certain groups of people, your worship is pointless.
Solomon and his bride “self-empty” and promote each other. They are compelled to do it. It’s not a chore. This is how Mother Theresa and countless others self-emptied for the most needy. When service replaces duty, our soul is meeting love. We love God by loving others.
5. Unspeakable Power. The last observation I’ll offer is the indescribable power that love produces. Physical attraction in the prime of youth and beauty are a gravitational pull of love depicted in this poem. The power of love to overcome any gaps in union cannot be underestimated. Love is a magnetic force that overpowers it’s subjects until unity is shared. It’s power can bring anything together. To the degree that any division resides within our soul, any amount of “us vs them”, to the same degree love is being resisted.
“Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is ONE.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) This “shama” is not an argument for monotheism. It’s the biggest statement of complete unity ever phrased by human lips. Our differences are to be celebrated and serve the purpose of expanding the love between us and the divine.
So yes, the love poet can teach us about God. Yes a human story of sex and love can open up into a theology that brings every tribe, nation, tongue (and religion) into a single frame. Every bit of pain, suffering or evil perpetrated in the world stems from a void where love is intended to dwell. The longing for love that we all possess proves there is a consummation.
This is love. Unity is the flow of God. We see and experience it everyday. The Song of Solomon proves that the love between us here and now is just a sliver of the love that exists as Ultimate Reality.
Thus the love of God need not be known only as a theological ideal, but it is experienced by our love shared with others.