Song of Songs: Appropriate language for describing our relationship with Christ?

As I mentioned in my last post, some people balk at the language in Song of Songs as too sensual or sexual even to be appropriate to describing Christ’s love for us. 

Here’s one response:

Perhaps they have in mind such lines as:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;

Song 1:1


My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
    that lies between my breasts.

Song 1:13

Then there is this passage:

As an apple tree among the trees of the forest,
    so is my beloved among the young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
    and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house,[b]
    and his banner over me was love.
Sustain me with raisins;
    refresh me with apples,
    for I am sick with love.
His left hand is under my head,
    and his right hand embraces me!
I adjure you,[c] O daughters of Jerusalem,
    by the gazelles or the does of the field,
that you not stir up or awaken love
    until it pleases.

Song 2:3-7.

Now before I go any further, I would observe first that even in the sense that Song of Songs is explicit, the Song itself uses metaphor to describe physical relationships rather than explicit, literal descriptions. That’s why I prefer to describe it as sensual rather than explicitly sexual language. But that sensuality is unavoidably there in the poetry.

Does this mean that the language is unfit to apply to God’s love for us – or given that the song has two parts, our love for him?  The suggestion at one point in the twitter conversation referenced above was that we wouldn’t apply such language to a mother’s relationship to a son. Therefore, we shouldn’t apply descriptions to do with “sexual love” to other forms of love.

Now of course, we don’t use this kind of language when talking about parents -for obvious reasons.  And furthermore, when we want to talk about how we as God’s people relate to him, there are aspects of that relationship where such language isn’t appropriate. It isn’t fitting to our understanding of God’s love to us as Father, or Christ’s as brother or even the way that we as His subjects love him as our king.

But the point is that whilst God’s love for us is portrayed as Fatherly and Christ is presented as king, brother and friend, that there is a specific and significant theme of Christ as bridegroom and church as bride in Scripture.

If Song of Songs portrays that kind of love which is appropriate between husband and wife and then if its canonical context points us to Christ’s love for us and ours for him, then surely in that context, the language is appropriate.

What then should we do with it? Of course we are not thinking of Christ admiring our breasts or wanting to have sex with us as the tweeter so crudely put. That’s nonsensical and frankly an offensive representation of what is being said.

Yet, that sensual language can teach us something about our relationship to Christ.  In fact, I want to suggest that it teaches us two things.

  1. It teaches us about intimacy. We are to stick close to Christ and our praise is to be intimately extravagant. We are to take delight in him but also to enjoy the delight he takes in us.
  2. It teaches us about fruitfulness. Just as a human marriage is meant to bear fruit in many children, so too should we expect fruit from the marriage between Christ and his church. That fruit is of course seen in many disciples coming to faith and growing in godliness.

So enjoy Song of Songs as it expresses intimacy and if the language causes discomfort, don’t run away from that but pay attention to how God is using our discomfort at bold language to challenge us and speak to us.

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