Draw me close, let Your love surround me./ Bring me near, draw me to Your side./ And as I wait, I’ll rise up like the eagle/ And I will soar with You, Your Spirit leads me on/ In the power of Your love.
(Chorus of Lord, I Come To You by Geoff Bullock (C) 1992)
What do you think when you hear worship songs like this? Do you shudder, roll your eyes and think:
I must confess, you probably could have described me as one of the “Jesus is my boyfriend” crowd when I was younger. There’s a lot out there on the interweb about songs like that, and most churches will have come across worship songs that sound romantic.
Much ink and many pixels have been used in talking about what’s wrong with romantic imagery in worship, so I won’t add much more here. And I won’t belittle the people who wrote those songs, because I’m pretty sure that most of the time they were written with good intentions. The main danger – and one that I’ve been caught up in myself – is that in singing to God like we would sing to our boy/girlfriend we can forget that it isn’t a human being that we’re singing to. We worship God. “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of their fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7) The one who sits in heaven on a throne surrounded by angels and heavenly creatures constantly singing praise to Him; who knows and sees everything; who created the universe and commands it; who is so perfect and impressive He looks like jewels; and who is so powerful He’s like a thunderstorm (see Revelation 4; Ephesians 1:15-20; and many other places in the Bible)! We can’t sing to Him like He’s one of us. It dishonours who He is.
Yet we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater. It’s wrong to treat God like He’s not God, but I think it’s also wrong to misunderstand the relationship that He has with His people. As John Piper says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever” (Desiring God), and we won’t delight in and enjoy a God we don’t want to love. And we won’t want to love a God who seems cold, distant, or permanently angry with us. When I feel like I’m drifting away from God, or my faith isn’t going cold, I find it helpful to be reminded of the relationship that my Saviour has won me into.
I first discovered the awesomeness of the book of Song of Songs through a sermon series at my church and some talks by Mike Reeves (some links below). I found it so encouraging I wanted to share it on here, in the hope that it’ll encourage you lovely people who read this blog. It’s taking me a while (sorry!), but here’s what I’ve found great as I’ve been learning about Song of Songs. I’ll focus on what it says about the relationship we have with Christ, rather than what it says about marriage. Having a healthy, Biblical view of marriage is important for single people as well as married people or those in a romantic relationship, but Song of Songs can deeply encourage us in faith because it speaks deeply of the relationship that we have with God.
If this is sounding a bit weird, stick with me.
The book of Song of Songs contains a whole load of love poetry from a husband to his bride, and the bride to her husband (subtitled “She” and “He” in the ESV), with a few verses from their friends in the mix. It’s packed with colour and imagery and sensuality as the couple express their joy in each other and their friends rejoice in their love as well. It’s much like how I remember the weddings I’ve been to – the bride and groom, beaming, can’t take their eyes off each other, and their friends and family delight in celebrating the couple’s relationship and new commitment. The book also celebrates the sexual relationship of the couple, too. Many people have been happy to leave it there, as a book talking about the goodness of love and marriage. But if all of Scripture is about Jesus (see John 5:39), what do we do with Song of Songs? It can seem a bit weird to say that a book that talks about romance and marriage and sex and all that is about God Himself, but let’s have a look at what it says about its main players:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the maidens love you! Take me away with you – let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers.”
– Song of Songs 1:2-4 (emphasis added)
The woman (She) is talking about her love for this man, whom she describes as a king. And later in the chapter, she describes him as a shepherd:
Tell me, you whom I love, where were you grazing your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday. Why should I be like a veiled woman beside the flocks of your friends?
– Song of Songs 1:7 (emphasis added)
These aren’t two different men that She is talking about. And looking after a herd of sheep is a strange hobby for a king. In chapter 3, She describes him like this:
Who is this coming up from the desert like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant?
– Song of Songs 3:6 (emphasis added)
Ring any bells? A king, coming from the wilderness, like a column of smoke? That’s how God led Israel out of Egypt in Exodus. And perfumed with myrrh and incense – myrrh was used to anoint the high priest and embalm dead bodies, and incense was used in the temple to represent prayers going to God as they worshipped. So He is not only a king and a shepherd, but a priest, and looks a lot like God. Verses 9-10 also talk about him arriving in a carriage made of gold.
Come out, you daughters of Zoin, and look at King Solomon wearing the crown, the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day his heart rejoiced.
– Song of Songs 3:11 (emphasis added)
And a king who is getting married! All these things together point to Jesus – the King of all who would die to be our perfect high priest, who has made us able to worship God and become His own as His bride, the Church, and who looks after her as a good shepherd would have cared for his sheep.
And what about his other half?
Dark am I, yet lovely, daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon. Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun. My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected.
– Song of Songs 1:5-6 (emphasis added)
There’s a lot of vineyard imagery in Song of Songs. In the Old Testament, it was a metaphor for Israel, the people of God (see Isaiah 5) – and this points to the Church, the “New Testament” people of God. There are also contrasts in who She is, e.g. “Dark am I, yet lovely… dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon.” Kedar was one of the sons of Ishmael (i.e. the son without God’s promise, unlike his brother Isaac) and the place was in Arabia (non-Jewish territory) but it talks about “curtains of Solomon”, temple imagery. It’s a dual identity – someone from outside the country and God’s promises, but brought in. And isn’t this our identity as Christians? People who are imperfect and sinful and broken – dark and stained – yet united with Christ, given His purity and righteousness – lovely?
There’s much more to say about Song of Songs, and you’ll have to wait for further posts to read about that (and get excited! :D). It’s a good reminder of the relationship we have with Christ – one with God, who also makes His people His beloved Bride.
There’s a danger with romantic-sounding worship songs in that they can almost bring God down to a human level. But we mustn’t forget the relationship that God has chosen to have with His people: as a husband has with his wife. I think Isaiah 54:5 strikes a good balance between these two things “… your maker is your husband – the LORD Almighty is his name – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” We must not make out that God is like us. He isn’t. And we also must not forget how He loves and cares for His people: intimately, passionately, devotedly. When we forget that God is God, we dishonour Him by not giving Him the worship He deserves, and harm ourselves by not having a true picture of the God who is worth all and gives us hope because He is God. When we forget how much He loves us, we dishonour Him by forgetting an important part of His character and end up fearing Him without loving Him, and this hurts us, too.
Is Jesus my boyfriend? No. But Christ is the heavenly Husband of the Church, and as members of the Church, His Bride, Christians should worship holding both parts of God’s character together. We should worship “God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light” (see 1 Timothy 6:15-16) with intimacy as well as awe.
These were the things I read and listened to for writing this post, and I’d recommend reading/listening to them yourself:
“Expressing Love to God” article by Bob Kauflin: http://www.worshipmatters.com/2005/11/22/expressing-love-to-god-in-worship/
“The Love of Christ in Song of Songs” series of talks by Mike Reeves: http://www.theologynetwork.org/unquenchable-flame/the-reformation-in-britain/getting-stuck-in/the-love-of-christ-in-song-of-songs.htm
Song of Songs sermon series (October 2012): http://www.stmaryswollatonpark.co.uk/podcast.html