28 March 2016

Song of Songs 3:2-5; 8:6-7

“For love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave… Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” (8:6, 7)

Psalm: Psalm 114


There is an ancient and strong tradition of using erotic language to evoke the passionate relationship between God and God's people. The whole book of Song of Songs is in the form of a song cycle of love songs between a lover and his beloved. Probably dating from the third or fourth century BC, it was most likely written to be sung for entertainment and is a celebration of intimate human experience. There are no moral imperatives to marriage or procreation; love is treasured for its own sake.

It is easy to see, therefore, why over the centuries the Judaeo-Christian tradition came to see it as a metaphor for God's love for God's people. However, in the Middle Ages another tradition grew up, which used the principles of Plato's thinking, not Christ's, and therefore misinterpreted the writings of St Paul as dualistic: spiritual = good; physical = evil. As a result, sex was condemned and erotic language banned in worship.

And yet, the incarnation itself is God's affirmation that the bodies God has given us are fundamentally good. And the Resurrection is the ultimate fulfilment of this affirmation; Jesus' body was resurrected as a sign of the final state intended for all creation. Resurrection puts back together divided realities: not just body and spirit, but also male and female, sin and salvation. The ecstasy of the union of sexual intercourse that we find in Song of Songs is the perfect metaphor for such reintegration.

Indeed, it is more than a metaphor; healthy sex requires a mutual vulnerability that can be the gateway to the divine. Deep spiritual encounter is also an experience of the same kind of boundless intimacy in the union of divine love and human love. Such divine intimacy is available to each one of us.

It is in this love that life and death are also integrated, which is why the meaning of the Resurrection can be summed up in this phrase from Song of Songs - "Love is strong as death". Love goes through death and is not destroyed, emerging the other side in a new life which encompasses and overcomes death.

To Ponder

  • How do you feel about erotic language used in the spiritual life? Does it resonate with your own experience of God?
  • How do you feel about your body? In what ways is it a sign for you of God's love?
  • Have you ever had a prayer experience that felt like being deeply and intimately loved? What happened?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.