ROMANTIC AND RELIGIOUS LOVE
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Love makes the world go round, says the one time popular song, and there are very few who will deny it. History reveals that one of life's greatest tragedies is to die unloved. During the Civil War, Charles Sumner was assaulted in the Senate chamber, and was seriously ill for months. He regretted he had to leave his battle against slavery unfinished, but this was not his deepest pain. He wrote, "But in the midnight watches, my keenest heart-gnawing regret was that, if I were called away, I had never enjoyed the choicest experience of life, that no lips responsive to my own had said,
I love you."
He expressed the minds of millions who would agree. It would be terrible to live and die and never hear anyone say to you, I love you. Love may not make the world go round, but it makes men happier as they go around with it. Love has enabled men to die with heroic valor. During the great battle of Gettysburg, Pickett was ordered to charge the Union artillery. As he went to the head of his lines, Wilcox, another commander, rode up to his side, and taking a flask from his pocket said, "Pickett, take a drink with me. In an hour you will be in hell or glory." He refused the drink saying, "I promise the little girl who is waiting for me down in Virginia that I would keep fresh upon my lips until we meet again, the breath of the violets she gave me when we parted." Faithful to his love, he rode off to die without whiskey on his breath. No one can calculate the power of human love in overcoming evil.
Love is the major theme of the Bible. The two great commandments that sum up the whole Old Testament are love commandments. Love of God and love of man are the highest values of life. In the New Testament love is not only the highest virtue and the first fruit of the Spirit, it is the very foundation of the Gospel. God so loved, is the beginning of the Gospel, and the end result is, we love Him because He first loved us.
It is of interest to note that love is the greatest theme of man's songs whether they be sacred or secular. The world revolves around romantic love, and the church around religious love. The one appeals to the flesh, and the other to the spirit. It is a serious mistake, however, to conclude that the two are opposed. They are not necessarily in conflict, for spiritual people also enjoy the experience of romantic love. In fact, it is only as Christians that we can experience the best of both worlds. The Christian can love one the physical level and the spiritual level. In Scripture the two become one, and are linked as closely as the body and spirit. Each affects the other, and, therefore, romantic love is everywhere in Scripture used as a symbol of religious love. In other words, God has taken the most common and universal experience of mankind and used it to illustrate the ideal relationship He desires to have with man.
The Song of Songs is a great love song that deals with love on the level of the physical. All the delights of an ideal romance and marriage are dwelt with in beautiful poetic language. The Bible would be sadly lacking if it had nothing to say about one of life's most important realms-the realm of romantic love. Few, however, have been content to leave it as a romantic song. It is true that God is not mentioned in the song, and there are no religious words. Yet, Jews and Christians alike have always seen the secular language of the Song as symbolic of the sacred. Just as the physical Temple was symbolic of the heavenly Temple, so earthly human love is symbolic of the eternal love union of God and man. It is no mere accident that eternity begins with a marriage banquet of Christ and His bride. Heaven is seen as an eternal honeymoon.
This is the Song of Songs, that is, the supreme Song, like the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. The ultimate in songs does not deal with romantic love only, but with the love of God and man. Religious love does not eliminate romantic love, however, but exalts it. According to I Kings 4:32 Solomon wrote 1,005 songs. No doubt many of them dwelt with the theme of love, but this one is the Song of Songs and became a part of Scripture because it deals with love on all levels. It is the worlds greatest love song.
Some Christians have been embarrassed by the romantic and physical love of the Song of Solomon. They have attempted to explain it away as if romantic love was the devil's invention. The New Testament says in Heb. 13:4 that marriage is honorable in all and the bed undefiled. If the Song of Solomon is seen as a pure and honorable love relationship, there is no reason whatever to be embarrassed by its frankness. It is true that the language of the Song is usually reserved for the privacy of the lovers and is not uttered in public, but the fact that the Bible makes it public shows that true and honorable love if God ordained. Man's big problem is he cannot adequately distinguish between love and lust and the result is confusion. Love words can make us think lustful, for they both use the same language and this can be shocking to our minds.
If there is great confusion over love and sex, then it would be tragic if the Bible did not give us a description of what true love is all about. It does, however, and we have it right here in this Song of Songs. Like most poetry dealing with love it is not always easy to understand. In fact, sometimes it is very difficult, just like real love in real life. Poetry tend to lend itself to a variety of interpretations, and there has been a great deal of variety in interpreting this book. Most everyone agrees it is hard to expound on this Song, but Bernard of Clairvaux, in the middle ages, preached 86 sermons on it, and this to monks who could never marry.
From the more liberal perspective, the Interpreter's Bible says, "Of all the books in the Old Testament none is so difficult to interpret as the Song of Songs." From the conservative side we read from Dr. James M. Gray, for many years president of Moody Bible Institute, "Of all the books of the Old Testament, I feel myself least competent to speak of the Song of Songs. I am not ignorant of what others have thought and written about the book, but personally I have not grasped it's contents...." Only a person who has done little study, or who has a great deal of pride, would claim to fully grasp this great love song. My own approach will be eclectic. It will attempt to see the truth and the values of the different interpretations held by men of God, both ancient and modern.
The most commonly held modern interpretation is that the Shulamite is a beautiful shepherdess girl in love with a young shepherd. They are engaged to be married, but one day King Solomon traveling by spotted this lovely creature. When he inquired and found she was not yet married, he ordered his noblemen to bring her to the royal pavilion. Solomon woes her and treats her like a queen, but all the glory and splendor of Solomon the mighty king could not take the place of her love for her shepherd. She longs to return to her true love, and forsake the riches of Solomon's palace. This view
is spelled out in detail in the Amplified Bible.
The Song is largely her song of love, and her desire to be true to her shepherd lover, and him only, inspite of all the appeals to forsake true love. She urges the ladies of Solomon's court to stop trying to divert her love from the shepherd to the king. She is persistent in resisting the charms of Solomon, and dreams only of her lover. When the ladies of the court ask why she is so loyal to her shepherd, she describes him in eloquent poetry. Finally, true love triumphs, and she is released, and goes to meet her shepherd lover. In 8:7 she sums up her experience with these words: "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned."
True love is permanent and cannot be bought. She would rather be the wife of a simply shepherd she loved, than number 701 among the wives of King Solomon. Here was a girl who could say no, even to the king, because she had surrendered herself to her one and only love.
I love thee-I love thee!
Tis all that I can say;
It is my vision in the night
My dreaming in the day.
It is not difficult to see how this interpretation has a spiritual application. Love, loyalty, and faithfulness to the Savior is what the Christian experience is all about. As part of the bride of Christ, every Christian goes through what this young girl of the Song goes through. Every Christian is tempted by the glory of the world to be unfaithful to Christ. Israel was lured away time and time again by other lovers than her husband Jehovah. She became an adulterous wife and the whole book of Hosea is about how God in His great love sought her out to forgive and restore her. The Song of Solomon, however, is a song where the ideal love is maintained. The bride does not go astray, but remains faithful, and that is why it is the Song of Songs.
Paul LeBotz wrote, "The Song of Solomon is the world's greatest love song, because it is an allegory of the world's greatest love story, that of Christ and His Bride." The romantic experience of falling, and growing in love is the most intense and interesting experience of life. It is the nearest thing to a religious experience, and that is why romance and religion are linked all through Scripture. Paul used the language of love to describe the relationship of Christ and the church. He says that every Christian is engaged to be married, and it is his hope that they will be virgins when the time comes, and not be unfaithful to the Bridegroom. Listen to II Cor. 11:2-3 in the New English Bible. "I am jealous for you with a divine jealousy; for I betrothed you to Christ, thinking to present you as a chaste virgin to her true and only husband. But as the serpent in his cunning seduced Eve, I am afraid that your thoughts may be corrupted and you may lose your simple-hearted devotion to Christ." Paul fears they will follow false Christ's and be untrue to their true Lover-the Good Shepherd.
Sex and satisfaction go hand in hand. The Bible makes it clear that your sex life can either help or hinder you in your spiritual life. If you are loyal in your love to your mate, the chances are very good you will be loyal to Christ in the spiritual realm. If you allow Satan to lure you into an immoral relationship, the chances are very good he will succeed in luring you into spiritual infidelity. Romance and religion are as close as body and spirit,
and what happens in one realm affects the other. In the final analysis of life, according to the closing chapters of Revelation, every person will fit into one of two categories. They will either be a part of the Bride of Christ, or part of the Great Whore, who is judged and condemned. God uses sex symbolism to describe the ultimate destiny of men. It will be an eternal marriage or everlasting divorce.
If Christians ever needed to stress the importance of, and the beauty of, a pure sex life, it is today. We live in a world where the greatest competitor with Christ is sex. The world does not have idols of wood and stone, but living idols which seek to lure us from our Lord. It is a constant repetition of the story of the Song of Songs. Romance, love, and sex need to be diligently studied from a Christian and Biblical point of view, if we expect Christians to be faithful to Christ, as the Shulamite was to her shepherd lover.
Even a pure and noble sex relationship can be embarrassing, however, because we are stuck with a fallen nature which is far short of the ideal. Adam and Eve could look upon nakedness, before the fall, and feel no shame. This is no longer the case, and the result is, not all of the Song of Solomon can be expounded in public. There are many things that are pure and beautiful between mates that are inexpressible in public. Some of these intimate
things are found in this great love song, and should be read in the privacy of your home.
Someone may object, and insist that all Scripture is given by God, and is profitable, and therefore, all Scripture should be publicly expounded. This objection fails to take in consideration the fact that the Bible was written for adults. There is no part of the Bible, to my knowledge, that was written for children. The Bible is an adult book, and some parts of it are such that only an adult can handle it without being affected in a negative way. Remember, the devil used the Scripture to tempt Christ, and he continues to do so, and an immature person could even be led into immorality through the reading of some Scriptures. I do not say this as a theory, for I have read the history of how the Bible has been used for the promotion of immorality.
Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, preached many sermons on the Song of Solomon, but he said, "The song is, in truth, a book for full-grown Christians." It was one of his favorites, but he recognized it would be a blank to many Christians who had not gone far nor deep in their love for Christ. He said, "It's music belongs to the higher spiritual life, and has no charm in it for unspirited ears.....The historical books I may compare to the outer courts of the temple: The Gospels, the Epistles, and the Psalms, bring us into the holy place or the Court of the priests; but the Song of Solomon in the most holy place: The holy of holies, before which the veil still hangs to many and untaught believer."
Many Christians fail to grasp the beauty of this Song because of personal problems in their own lives. These make impossible for them to link the sexual and spiritual. The great expounders of the book were men who loved their wives and their Lord, and could see the beauty of both, and how one illustrated the other. G. Cambell Morgan wrote, "It is, first, a revelation of the true nature of human love. It is, secondly, an unveiling of the highest religious experience." Then he said, "The cool, calculating, mechanical
man who dislikes this book has never been in love, and probably never will be." According to Morgan, the reading of this part of Scripture can be a good test of your capacity to love. If it is disgusting to you, you are wired wrong, and could use some counseling. If it is delightful to you, you have the capacity to attain to God's ideal for both romantic and religious love.
The value of studying this book is that it can lead us into the depths of the two most important love relationships of life: Love of a man and woman, and love of man and God. We will better grasp the intensity of Christ's love for us as we see how it relates to the passionate love of human lovers. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. And here is the part of the Bible that tells it in powerful romantic poetry. All love songs are an attempt to express the inexpressible. There are no end to them, for none ever succeed in saying it all. The Song of Songs says it better than any other, however, and gives expression to numerous values we will be considering. We need to keep in mind that we are dealing with the love of Christ, the most intense love that can be known. The poet put it-
One there is above all others,
Oh, how He loves!
His is love beyond the brother's,
Oh, how He loves!
Earthly friends may fail or leave us,
One day soothe, the next day grieve us;
But this Friend will ne'er deceive us,
Oh, how He loves!
If we expect to inner into the experience of this Song of Songs, then our prayer should be that which Dr. Chalmers prayed when he began his study of this book: "My God, spiritualize my affections, give me intense love to Christ."