“H-O-T-T—Hot!” as a late adolescent might say. The Song of Solomon doesn’t get a lot of airtime in sermons and Bible studies, for a bad good reason: it’s explicit. For years, many in the Church tried to reduce it to God’s love for the Church, but that falls flat on its face because the analogy breaks down really fast. This is not to say that it’s a bad analogy, but Solomon is talking about the intense love that exists between a husband and a wife. Song of Solomon is vivid, honest, and can be a little embarrassing for people of all ages.
Growing up in the Church, I was told, implicitly, that the worst sin I could commit was sex outside of marriage. The Bible does teach that sex is reserved for marriage, but this overemphasis on chastity, rooted in fear, turned out to be an unhealthy, and potentially damaging, thing.
There are two sides to the same coin. If you are not a virgin when you get married, you are told that you are “spoiled,” “stained,” “tainted,” “not up to what you ought to be for your spouse.” It is a source of humiliation and shame, so much so that many Christians who are not virgins when they marry will lie to their spouse about past sexual experiences.
On the other side is the person who has entered marriage as a virgin. I once spoke to a sizable group of young Christian men in their early twenties. Those who were virgins, the vast majority, talked with excitement about how much they were looking forward to having sex with their future wives. “Well,” I said, “if that is what you are most looking forward to in marriage, you are going to be let down.” Marriage and sex go hand in hand, but marriage is about so much more than sex.
When I read Song of Solomon, it reminds me of what my relationship with my wife is supposed to be like. Am I sick with love (5:8)? Is there a consuming desire in my life to have intimacy with my spouse, even beyond the bedroom?
The old Prayer Book service of marriage gets a lot of negative coverage. When Prince William and Kate, née Middleton, were married, a lot of time was dedicated to whether or not Kate would vow to “obey” her husband. She didn’t. What no one talked about was what Prince William said to her when he placed the ring upon her finger: “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and all my worldly goods I thee endow . . .”
A woman said to me once, “If I knew that my husband worshipped the ground I walked on, obeying would be a cakewalk.”
Now, there’s a lot to be said about what “obey” means in the vows, but suffice it to say, the man makes a profound promise. He is saying that he belongs to his wife completely; his whole life belongs to her; he forfeits his very life for her. That is an intense intimacy.
As I read Song of Solomon, it is a reminder of the goodness of marriage and the intimacy that God longs for us to have in marriage with our spouses, complete vulnerability coupled with complete acceptance.