Marriage has been affected by our fallen world.
Marriage should be a relationship in which husband and wife are working together to more fully become the image of God. It should be a relationship in which each spouse is actively trying to bless the other so that the other spouse can become all that they were created to become. It’s a relationship in which both partners honor, respect, and love each other in a way that helps them more fully mirror the love of God and God’s blessing and provision in their lives.
That’s what marriage should be, but it’s become distorted in our fallen world. That’s part of the problem with sin. Sin doesn’t eradicate God’s good gifts, but sin does take God’s good gifts and slightly distort them so that instead of being life-giving, they are life taking. Marriage is a gift from God and should be life-giving, but because of sin and our fallen world too many marriages struggle to be a blessing. Sex, in the confines of marriage, is a gift from God, but because of sin and our fallen world it has become distorted in a way that sex becomes about power, control, and abuse.
Perhaps it’s because of the way love is portrayed in our fallen world a book like Song of Songs seems so strange and far-fetched. It’s so strange in that we often don’t know how to interpret it: is it allegory, historical fiction, collection of love poems, or a dramatic real life encounter. Is it too sexual to be included in the canon of scripture (as has been argued at various points in history) or is there wisdom to be garner from its strange words? What is the book about?
Reading the text at face value reveals an intense love relationship between a beloved and his lover. The beloved is named as Solomon, while the lover is an unknown Shulammite. The Shulammite appears to be Solomon’s one true love, which seems strange considering what we know of Solomon and his 700 wives and 300 concubines. Yet, even in the midst of all of these women, Solomon has found his one true love with the Shulammite, and it is this relationship that provides the greatest blessing in his life.
The text then details their relationship. It begins with love and desire that is headed toward marriage in chapters 1 and 2. It shares a love and desire that makes a very public commitment in marriage and then shares a very private consummation in chapters 3 and 4. The rest of the book then, from 5:2 on, is love and desire that works through the very real growing pains of married life. These include baggage that was brought into the marriage, as well as issues that arise as two people learn to live together, and as they change over time. Yet the focus is not on the “issues” as on the love and desire shared between the couple. Solomon and the Shulammite work through these problems as two individuals who are constantly sharing love and desire, who are deeply in love with each other, and are expressing that love to each other in very appropriate ways.
This is the way love should bless life. Marriage and sexual relationships are supposed to be about a love and desire for the other. This is beautiful, and the romance is not just the ideal, it can be the reality as we learn to act like God in our marriages. We must reject the definition of love that our fallen world has presented to us and embrace love and desire in its proper place.
Looking at the book as a whole, the literary focus or the central element is found in 4:16-5:1, the wedding day and night. The book is not just about love, or even romantic love. The book is about marriage-related love. It talks about youthful infatuation and it speaks of the very real problems of married life, but the focus is on the wedding day and night; the focus is on marriage-related love.
As our fallen world offers a multitude of varying ways to fulfill sexual desire, and many of these multitude of sexual relationships that fall outside of husband/wife committed marriage, here is the Song of Songs saying I have what you want, and it’s found in keeping God’s gifts in their proper place. There is a place where love is beautiful and wonderful, and it’s found in marriage-related love. Don’t settle for something less. Don’t settle for some illicit affair, one night stand, or magical encounter. Don’t believe the lies of our fallen world, sin has distorted God’s good gifts, but the distortion is not the reality.
The Song of Songs encourages us to disregard the fallen version of love, and to embrace God’s version that helps lead to human flourishing. May we embrace this love.