Monday, May 25, 2009

How to Get Beyond “Thou Shalt Not”: A Lesson on Song of Solomon

Text: Song of Solomon 1

Main Idea
: Romantic love is ideally an enchanting relationship.


The Ten Commandments gives us the basics for morality. There is a temptation to see all of life through the Ten Commandments in a way that only emphasizes the negative. This negative starting point has made some people believe that the negative aspect of ethics is all that is required. Our Lord and Savior however taught two things regarding the Commandments, that they are to be interpreted beyond the surface level and that they are summed up in positive acts. He shows the Ten Commandments are to be interpreted beyond the surface level when he says thing like that a man is guilty of murder by simply calling someone else names. (Matthew 5:21-26) He shows they are better summed up by a positive act when he says that the sum of the Law is to love God with all our heart, soul and might and to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22:34-40) Despite these interpretations, some through the church's history have still interpreted that the best ideas about romantic love is that we should not commit adultery. While it is most definitely true that adultery is to be absolutely avoided, it is also true that many who have avoided this heinous act but lack in the area of cherishing their spouse. The book of Song of Solomon does not focus on the negative but describes a relationship that is enchanting.

Not Utilitarian
Romantic love is not merely a functional, utilitarian part of life. A friend of mine is married to a devout, conservative Christian. He grew up Catholic but does not claim to be particularly devout himself. He was surprised at his the wedding ceremony that his soon to be wife had her grandmother read a section from Song of Solomon. He thought the literature to be somewhat risqué and not sure how this book made its way into the canon of Scripture. This attitude is common among people. They see the church and all that is with it as a kill joy. The authority of the Scripture and the church are seen as having the same effect as a wet blanket. This attitude is re-enforced by those in the church who would see that marriage as more allowed than enjoyed. They would see that romantic love is to be tolerated for reasons of establishing families that can in turn provide for a good environment to raise children and continue the human race. Other than that function, what good is it? Song of Solomon is definitely not a book about utilitarian view of marriage.

Some anthropologist and biologist say that babies are cute so that parents will care for them. In other words, the beauty a parent finds in its child is there so that he feels compassion on the child and the child will be cared for and thus bring about the survival of the human race. Does this type of thinking kill the joy of parenting in your eyes? Why or why not?

The Commandment tells us not to commit adultery. To pursue this as a virtue, one must not only remain faithful to one's spouse but _______________. (Fill in the blank about what one must do positively fulfill the this commandment.)

Captures the Imagination

Romantic love ideally captures the imagination. One of most noticeable things about the book of the Song of Solomon is that there is a lot of imagery in the poetry. This imagery is not the same types of imagery that we see in modern love songs. The imagery is from agriculture, animal husbandry, and common practices of the day. We are less connected with the beauty of nature than those people in ancient Israel. The idea of all of this is that the romantic relationship is supposed to capture the imagination. The writer talks about his love being like a mare among Pharaoh's chariots. A mare is a female horse. Pharaoh's chariots were only pulled by male horses. It was an ancient tactic I'm told for the enemies of Egypt to release mares so as to distract the horses of Egypt. Romantic love is ideally one that drives the couple to distraction.

The Song of Solomon uses many illustrations from nature and agriculture. What would be more appropriate for our society?

How does something capture the imagination?

Applying It To More

Since the 7th Commandment to not commit adultery and the book of the Song of Solomon both relate to the righteous and the flourishing romantic relationship, we can see how they relate. But there are other commandments besides the 7th. All the commandments should also be seen with more than utilitarian eyes. The commandment to not steal is not simply so that society can have a viable economy. Nor does this commandment against theft simply benefit the human race by ensuring that families enough food and clothing for their survival. Respecting someone else's property shows the dignity of the person and in turn shows respect for the one who made that person. It is a component of the sacredness of the other person. We do not keep the Sabbath simply because we need rest. We could get rest by some other method. Keeping the Sabbath is more about remembering the creation, remembering the Exodus and remembering the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Resting to remember these things is not merely a functional reason. All of these shows a recognition of the sovereignty of God in his providential care of us personally and corporately.

Though modern anthropology looks at laws such as these as being ethics based on functionality, how does the ethic based on wonder apply to the following?

Thou shalt have not other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make any graven image.
Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain.
Thou shalt honor your father and your mother.
Thou shalt not bear false witness.
Thou shalt not covet.

A functional view of ethics sometimes causes one to focus on risk mitigation rather than submitting to the requirements of a Holy God. There is a component of submitting to something or someone in all ethics. What would you suggest that those with a functional view of ethics submit to? (Hint: It is probably what makes them indignant.)
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