August 17, 2011
“I am my beloved and He is mine, His banner over me is love! His banner…over meeee….is loooove…”
As a fourth-grade class, we belted this song out as best we knew how. It was, after all, a bible song. A song with the words lifted right from somewhere in the Old Testament, praising God for his love for us, His children. At least that’s what we assumed.
I chuckle at the mental image of elementary school kids, singing this song from the bottom of our hearts. We figured we were singing about how much God loves us – and of course He does. We figured we were singing words right out of the bible – and of course, we were, from right there in Song of Solomon (chapters 2 & 6). The catch is, these words aren’t about God’s relationship between Him and His people; they were written as love poetry between a man and his bride!
Song of Solomon is one of those books in the bible that many of us don’t quite know what to do with. Read at face value, it’s pretty erotic stuff. (If you’ve never read it through it in one sitting, take 20 minutes and read it today; you’ll gain a new appreciation for God’s design for our sexuality.) Consider a few verses:
“Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely.” (4:3)
“His lips are like lilies dripping with myrrh. His arms are rods of gold set with topaz; his body is like polished ivory…His legs are pillars of marble…” (5:14-15)
“…if the pomegranates are in bloom, there I will give you my love.” (7:12)
And these are just the more “blog friendly” verses. There are dozens of other verses, describing in poetic and vivid (if a bit unusual) detail the delight of every part of the human body. Every part. The question that has stumped pastors,
preachers, theologians (and fourth grade teachers!) for centuries is, “Why?” Why is a book that is so graphic, so explicit, and so carnal in the bible anyway?
The simple answer is that God wants us to grasp that He designed sex for our pleasure. Not just for pleasure of course, and not pleasure on our own terms, but for pleasure nonetheless. Sex is supposed to be physical, sensual and passionate. To enjoy sex most fully is to embrace the truth that God created us with bodies that are capable of immense pleasure. Song of Solomon insists that our bodies are not just machines that pump blood and digest food and carry us from place to place.
Instead, God made us as creations with nerve endings and sensory receptors, people who have been made to enjoy touch, massage, kissing, and a wide range of sexual pleasure. In this oft-neglected book of the bible, God gives his benediction on His gift of erotic desire.
Why do we need to know this? Because certain segments of our society have long insisted that pleasure isn’t God’s idea – especially when it comes to sex. I know – there is also a large chunk of our culture that has radically diminished sex into nothing BUT “what feels good.” But meanwhile – especially for those raised in a church setting – others have been taught to think that somehow, pleasure isn’t okay with God. That sex is strictly for procreation. That “spiritual” people avoid sex, or at least try to quell the urge as much as possible (Why, for example, do we talk about sex as “dirty” or “naughty”?). Somehow, many have concluded that anything to do with our bodies is unspiritual, unchristian, even sinful, while only those things that enhance our spirit are “good”. Women been have fed the lie that “nice girls don’t do that” (whatever “that” might happen to be) or that “sex is more for him, and you can’t really expect to enjoy it as much as your husband.” In many ways, women have been made to feel inferior about their bodies (too fat, too thin, improperly shaped, too many wrinkles, not enough tone…) and when you dislike your body, it’s tough to embrace the idea that your body is designed for pleasure.
None of these attitudes fits with what the bible says about sex. And just to reiterate – God’s plan for sex is not JUST for pleasure (I covered that in a previous post) and it’s not pleasure when and how we want (The Song of Songs lyrically conveys sex as a locked garden that is unlocked at the wedding altar). In fact, even within
marriage there are limits to what a couple ought to engage in. The bottom line, however, is that God created us to enjoy the passion, the desire, the fulfillment and the physical delight that sex can bring. He designed us to enjoy our bodies –including (especially?) our sexual side.
Tomorrow, I’ll expand a bit more on what this means for your marriage (and it’s not what you think). In the meantime, let me challenge you to reflect on your attitudes towards sex. Deep down, is it possible that your views towards sex and pleasure have been jaded? Is it possible that you have somehow woven pleasure and guilt together in a way that they don’t belong together? Might you be restraining yourself from enjoying sexuality in its fullness, the way God intended?
- Written by Rob Toornstra – senior pastor, father of three, and my husband