Tuesday, August 15, 2023

The Song of Songs and the Permanence of Love

Heard the story about the kid who was asked what Christians believe about marriage? "In Christianity," he said, "you can only have one wife. This is called monotony." 

This morning my Bible time was spent in Song of Solomon chapter 8. Yes, a widower who is now a confirmed bachelor reads the book of Song of Solomon. What struck me the most about this chapter is love's permanence. Solomon writes: "Love is strong as death." He then adds, "Many waters can't quench the flame of love, neither can floods drown it." Such lovely words! God designed love between the sexes to be monogamous and permanent. But marriage is so much more that that, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Song of Solomon. This wonderful book gives us a window into the purity and goodness of God's original plan for marriage.

Let me clear about my position on divorce and remarriage. I oppose remarriage after divorce as long as one's first spouse is alive. To me, the Scriptures are pretty clear about that. Can a biblical case be made for remarriage after divorce while the original spouse is still living? I think so, but it would be an exceptional one. I could agree with it if I interpreted the final clause of Matt. 19:9 (in the Greek text) the way they do. But since I don't, I can't support their position. But even if we "agree to disagree" on this issue, there is another argument against remarriage that is, I believe, even stronger. I was not aware of it until I read it in Lewis's famous book Mere Christianity. When you got married, said Lewis, you said something like "Till death do us part" or "As long as we both shall live" or something along those lines. This is a solemn pledge made in the presence of both God and man. And men keep their word. Karl Barth put it this way:

To enter upon marriage is to renounce the possibility of leaving it.

You are in it for good, decade after decade. There is no ripcord. No ejection seat. Idiosyncrasies, personal failures, the difficulty of making decisions together, personality differences -- these are all to be expected and, indeed, marriage calls for a lifetime of adjustment. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this: "It is not your love that sustains your marriage. It is your marriage that sustains your love." 

None of us has anything to boast about in this respect. I am as guilty as any man for failing to love my wife as I should have. But in the school of God, married partners can adapt and grow, as Becky and I did during 37 years of marriage. It is the gospel that makes the whole thing achievable and worth the fight. The fact is, God is a forgiver and a redeemer. In addition, the Holy Spirit says, "I will help you." Only the gospel can do that in a marriage.

In Hebrew, the title of Song of Solomon is Shir hashirim, or "Song of Songs." Luther called it das Hohelied, "the finest of songs." Eugene Peterson calls it "The Song -- best of all songs." The ISV calls it "The Most Beautiful Song." The book is just that.

I am a big fan of reading the entire Bible, including those books that deal with love and sex. How can you, husband, be more faithful to your wife? You can know her. You can listen to her. You can ask her to hold you accountable for holy living. She can encourage you to live the life of the Spirit. You can model servanthood before her. Keep active together in worship and service. 

You can do these things even during the "monotony" of marriage -- not just when doing holy things, but understanding that everything you do together holds the possibility of the holy.