Archive for the ‘creation’ Category

FAITH

 

Faith is the ability to understand that the God of Judeo-Christian Scripture truly exists, to want that God to exist, to the point that enough Scripture is read and digested to understand intuitively that God does, indeed, exist. Faith also accepts as real and welcome the work of the Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers. Moreover, faith involves the ability to appreciate that a better world exists, the spiritual one in which God plays such a vital and loving part. Faith includes the ability to value valor over wealth. Faith is explained in a noble manner in that great Hall of Faith chapter, Hebrews 11:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders received witness. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaks. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him; for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.

“By faith Noah . . .By faith Abraham . . .By faith Isaac . . . By faith Jacob . . . By faith Joseph . . . By faith Moses . . .

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets. Who, through faith, subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again, and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy); they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

“And these all, having received witness through faith, received not the promise, God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

Abel’s offering to God was more excellent than Cain’s because of his more noble understanding of what would be pleasing to God, which came from his greater faith. Even back then, Abel understood that God Himself would have to die sacrificially in the place of fallen and helpless mankind to bring him back into fellowship with God. He knew that and sacrificed an animal, one of God’s creations, in honor of that future event, long before Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac and Moses instituted the Passover in commemoration of that same great sacrifice that Jesus made.

Cain failed to understand that same helplessness of man; he thought that he could please God through the fruit of his own labors. There are sects that attempt to do that today: storm the gates of heaven through their own efforts.

Enoch pleased God through his faith. His translation from Earth into Heaven without death was equivalent to what we look forward to today: the rapture of the Church, as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

“Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory though our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“But I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also who sleep in Jesus God will bring with him. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not precede them who are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore, comfort one another with these words.”

Jesus Himself stressed the importance of faith, often attributing the faith of those whom He healed to their restoration. In Luke 18:42, Jesus heals a man, and then tells him that he was saved through his faith:

“And Jesus said to him, Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.”

Advertisements

IN THE BEGINNING

 

Near the very beginning of Scripture, in Genesis 1:26 and 27, God asserts that man was created in His image:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Commentaries on this passage commonly interpret the likeness of man to God to involve qualities of character. That they do not include gender and gender-based love in their descriptions, despite the obvious intent of Scripture to include this feature, is a deliberate and unjustified attempt to equate purity with chastity, as I’ve noted elsewhere. They simply don’t address the most important underlying issue, which is that man’s character at his creation reflects the character of God.

The Reformation Study Bible, for example, describes the similarities between God and man at his creation as possessing intelligence and creativity, the ability to communicate and relate to others, and moral uprightness. Regarding man’s morality, the commentary does not go into details, other than to acknowledge that this faculty was diminished in man’s fall from grace. Other commentaries are similarly vague.

The details are important. The regenerate man, he who has been born again upon his acceptance of the selfless act of Jesus Christ on the cross, and has received the indwelling Holy Spirit as Jesus promised to His followers, is capable of much more than the moral uprightness commonly thought of as being peaceful, avoiding “sinful” behavior, and not indulging in troublemaking. The more important qualities of his regenerated character as aided by the Holy Spirit include faith, courage, selflessness and compassion for others.

These four qualities sometimes occur together in events so profound as to define the person. When they do, they display nobility of the high order associated in wartime with recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The reading of the recipient’s deeds that led to the receipt of that medal often causes weeping in the audience due to the extraordinary greatness of the heroic action that is being cited.

That is the greatness of God’s character, and the character in His image with which He endowed us at creation.

Psalm 22 describes the agony of crucifixion; Isaiah 53 describes the humility and suffering imposed on Jesus for our sins; and the Gospels affirm these forecasts.

The Gospels and the various letters of the New Testament place the same expectations on the followers of Jesus. In John 14:12, Jesus claims that some will do even greater works than Him:

“Verily, verily, I say to you, He who believes on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to my Father.”

Jesus was able to make that assertion because after His resurrection and the subsequent Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given by the Father in great measure to Jesus’ followers in the Upper Room of Acts 2. The Acts of the Apostles bears witness of the amazing healings, resurrections and transmission of the Gospel message performed by Peter, Paul and others. That they managed to do so under severe persecution is even more remarkable.

Or is it? Are the acts of the Apostles remarkable despite the persecution they were forced to endure, or are they remarkable because of that persecution? There has been talk in some Churches that many of those first gifts of the Holy Spirit no longer apply, for one very flimsy reason or another, the excuse most often put forward being that the gifts ceased at the final canonization of Scripture, and the establishment of Churches throughout the known world, rendering that Power from God no longer necessary. This point of view is called cessationism, for the cessation of the gifts. It is most prominent in those Churches having no outreach and whose attendance has been limited to Sunday services of a ritualistic flavor. Here there is no challenge requiring faith or courage, nor any exercise of selflessness or compassion. Here there is no manifestation of the Holy Spirit, not because the gifts have ceased, but because the Church has abandoned its fervent love of God.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are as necessary today as they were in that Upper Room. Societies that have suppressed Christianity for decades and even centuries are re-awakening to Jesus’ message. Their need to hear the Word of God is just as urgent as those societies of the First Century that had never heard the Gospel. In Africa and China, for example, the underground Church is spreading like wildfire, and multitudes of these repressed people are being harshly persecuted. But the Holy Spirit is working signs and wonders there, just as in the Book of Acts, and Churches continue to grow.

And the multitudes who are coming to God in the midst of their persecutions are growing in faith, courage, selflessness and compassion. They are well-pleasing to God and worthy of their future spiritual marriage to Jesus Christ.

We in societies in which Christians are comfortable may not be as fortunate as we think. Perhaps we should ask, even plead, for the Power of the Holy Spirit, even if it means our physical discomfort and danger. As Jesus said in Matthew 10:24,

“The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.”

If Jesus had to suffer for our sakes and was hated by the world, how should we expect not to encounter those same conditions? Perhaps, over the centuries, many sincere Christians were able to live out their lives in comfort and security. Perhaps they were fortunate, or perhaps not. But I know that personally, I’d like to have some things in common with Jesus. Provided, of course, that I am able to maintain my faith.

SHOWERED WITH BLESSINGS

 

Christian news outlets seem to have a common theme these days – a lamentation over the decline in Church attendance. This same theme can be seen in the frantic way that some Churches are trying to keep their flocks: daycare, latte machines, happy messages. Given the manner in which the Church seems to be falling away despite the almost hysterical attempts of pastors to stop the outward flow, it’s natural to wonder whether the exiting masses really ever understood what they had signed up for. Maybe those who evangelized them didn’t give them the big picture. Maybe the neophytes expected to get some blessings out of the deal, of the material kind.

Jesus’ parable of the sower comes to mind. In Matthew 13:18-23, Jesus explains this parable to His disciples:

“Hear, therefore, the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he that received the seed in stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it; yet has he not root in himself, but endures it for a while; for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he is offended. He also who received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received the seed in the good ground is he who hears the word, and understands it, who also bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

I see this falling away as a good thing. Those who had accepted a materialistic Jesus, expecting Him to come promptly down the chimney bearing goodies or handing them a check from Publishers’ Clearing House, were worshiping a different god than Jesus anyway. I’ve seen Church spokespersons leading such people astray with blatant misrepresentations of who Jesus actually is, and what He actually represents. You can still see them on television hawking their wares. I once attended a Church where a young couple participated with fervent prayers for the removal of a cancer that was afflicting the wife; when she eventually died, the husband refused to come back to Church.

Jesus never promised such things; rather, He treated the material world with disdain, focusing instead on the spiritual world to come. In John 18:36 and Matthew 6:24, Jesus made this clear:

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from here.”

“No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Those who received the Word of God in good soil are of a different sort. After the pseudo-Christians have left the fold, these others will remain, whatever the circumstances that try to draw them back into secular society. They see a more noble Jesus, and in their staying the course God in return is developing them into a people having a common trait, the possession of valor.

God will indeed shower them with blessings, but of a more spiritual nature. God will clothe them in riches of character, endowing them with an abundance of faith, courage, selflessness and compassion, those qualities that Jesus will treasure in His Bride, the Church. Just like Jonah, they will enjoy the spiritual companionship of souls that they have rescued with a true knowledge of God.

“And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the preaching that I bid you. So Jonah arose, and went to the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes . . . And God said to Jonah . . .And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, in which are more that one hundred twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”

THE QUEEN MOTHER

 

In Chapter 2 of Scott Hahn’s book Hail, Holy Queen (one of my favorites), he comments on Jesus’ response during the wedding at Cana (John 2) to His mother’s words that “They have no wine.” At these words, Jesus tells her “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

Many Bible commentators, Scott asserts, take Jesus’ words here as a rather harsh put-down to His mother, Mary. Scott defends Jesus’ response, noting that the phrase “what have you to do with me” actually can convey respect.

Without attempting to put words into Scott’s mouth or ideas into his head that he would take strong objection to, I see in this book numerous instances of what many readers readily could interpret as quite brilliant defenses of the vision of a feminine Holy Spirit. In doing so, Scott often seems to camouflage attributes rightly belonging to the Holy Spirit in the person of the Virgin Mary, just as the Catholic Church seems to do in a more general setting. Whether this tendency is intentional on Scott’s part, only he can say. I seem to remember that he has denied such an intent.

While not intentionally disagreeing with Scott’s attempt to defend the benign intent of Jesus’ words to Mary in John 2, these words evoke in my own mind the thought that perhaps Jesus, while responding to Mary, was thinking of how the wedding at Cana was but a foreshadow of His future marriage to His Church in the spiritual realm. Perhaps He was anticipating with great joy the time when His hour would finally come, when His spiritual Mother, the Holy Spirit, would participate in His future wedding to His Church. In fact, Dr. Hahn himself appears to come to that same conclusion in his Chapter 2. If such were indeed the case, this exchange between Jesus and Mary can be viewed as providing a beautiful Scriptural reference in support of the Holy Spirit’s femininity.

Farther along in the book, in Chapter 3, Dr. Hahn addresses the woman of Revelation 11:19 through 12, of which I extract parts below:

“And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant; and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven – a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. And she, being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.

And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and, behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven and did cast them to the earth; and the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered, to devour her child as soon as it was born.

And she brought forth a male child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up onto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.”

Many evangelical Christians associate the woman of Revelation 12 with the nation of Israel. Scott Hahn notes that some theologians identify her as the Church, and proceeds to discuss why this identification doesn’t quite fit the Scriptural description. He then applies a more fitting identification of her as Mary, adding a beautifully profound association of her with the ark of Revelation 11:19: “If the first ark contained the Word of God in stone, Mary’s body contained the Word of God enfleshed.”

The passage in Revelation 11:19, which immediately precedes Revelation 12’s description of the woman clothed with the sun, actually seems to belong to that later chapter.

While Scott’s association of the Ark with Mary may be quite true, here again I perceive a yet higher association, one that, while not taking away from Mary’s role here, adds yet another layer to it. Noting that the location of the drama in Revelation 11 and 12 is in the spiritual domain, I would rephrase Scott’s assertion as “If the first ark contained the Word of God in stone, and Mary’s body contained the Word of God enfleshed, the Holy Spirit contained the Word of God in Spirit.” I see the ultimate Woman of Revelation 12 as the Holy Spirit. To me, that image is quite beautiful.

Lately, I’ve taken to re-reading in the evenings the historical books of Scripture; Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. At the present time, in going through 2 Kings, I’ve noticed that as the kings and their deeds were recounted, mention was given of their mothers. In Chapter 4 of Hail, Holy Queen, Dr. Hahn addresses the importance of the Queen Mother to the King’s regime. His explanation of her status is most interesting: the practice of the kings of that era of taking multiple wives led to the awkward situation of selecting to whom would be bestowed the honor of serving in the primary position of queen. This situation was wisely avoided by placing the mother of the king in that exalted position. Scott Hahn revisits Revelation 12 in this chapter, enthroning Mary, as mother of Jesus, as the woman of such queenly stature as described in Revelation 12:1 and 2, as co-Regent of Jesus in His ultimate role of kingship over the earth.

While there may be some truth to Scott’s assignment here, I see a far more profound truth, and one more harmonious to the Scriptural text, in assigning to the Holy Spirit this same function.

DISCOVERING HIDDEN BEAUTY

 

For a long time now, modern Churchgoers have questioned the motive and, even more seriously, the guiding Hand of the Holy Spirit behind Paul’s descriptions in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 regarding the proper role of women in Church. Was Paul a misogynist, as some have claimed? Was he really listening to the voice of God when he wrote those passages?

“Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted to them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also says the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”

“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”

Given Paul’s beautiful description of the marriage between Christ and His Church in Ephesians 5:22-33, it is highly doubtful that Paul was a misogynist.

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and he is the savior of the body. Therefore, as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

“Nevertheless, let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife, see that she reverence her husband.”

It is inconceivable to me that Paul could have written the above passage under an attitude of disdain toward women, or worse, a rebellious streak of independence from God. It is far more likely that here, as well as in the two passages cited earlier, that Paul wrote under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who had something more profound to impart to the reader of Scripture than we have so far been able to grasp.

The problem with attempting to attribute Paul’s discussions of the woman’s role in Church to going off the reservation is that he was not the only one in Scripture to say what he did. Isaiah 3:12 and 1 Peter 3:1-5 have much the same to say:

“As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they who lead you cause you to err, and destroy the way of your paths.”

“In the same manner, you wives, be in subjection to your own husbands that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the behavior of the wives, while they behold your chaste conduct coupled with fear; whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of the wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel, but let it be the hidden person of the heart in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quite spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands.”

Knowing from 2 Peter 1:20 and 21 and from Paul himself in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 that all Scripture is inspired of the Holy Spirit and applies to all generations, I sense that something much more profound and supportive of the dignity of womanhood is in play here than what is commonly understood. Perhaps a major clue to our understanding of Paul’s words is encapsulated in Ephesians 5:33: “. . .let every one of you. . .so love his wife even as himself; and the wife, see that she reverence her husband.” Notice in this sentence the different roles played by the man and his wife: the man loves, even sacrificially, while the woman reverences him. This difference harmonizes with the difference in roles spelled out for male and female from the very beginning in Genesis 2:

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help fit for him. . . And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.”

Out of this passage one can quickly discern a significant difference in roles: the man is to be the initiator, and the woman the responder. We can directly understand this difference today in a more practical and earthly setting, merely by observing the two genders in their actions and interactions among others. This difference is more basic than cultural: it is the way that we were designed by God. It has nothing to do with equality; male and female have exactly the same standing before God, as Paul noted in Galatians 3:28:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, here is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Scripture also is quick to point out that the man’s role involves the burden of responsibility, to the point of sacrifice, and that should a man fail to assume his proper role, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to take his place. To back that statement up, I refer the reader to the example of Deborah in Judges 4.

God made male and female different for the purpose of harmony: the woman serves as a complementary other to the man. A responsive woman performs that purpose as a complementary other to the initiator man.

In my opinion the issue extends beyond the complementary way that God designed men and women. According to Genesis 1:26 and 27,

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

This passage, along with the story of Eve’s creation out of Adam in Genesis 2, appears to point back to the very form in which the Godhead itself exists, with the Holy Spirit interacting with the Divine Will that we know as the Father as His responsive Other, the Divine Means. If in fact there is truth to this perceived connection, and if indeed the Holy Spirit is functionally feminine as I strongly suspect, Paul’s demand of women that they remain silent during Church services represents nothing less than the call for women to behave as proper types of the Holy Spirit.

What an honor it would be for Christian women to represent the Holy Spirit! If such is the case, as I believe with my heart, the passages in Paul cited above, rather than maligning womanhood, exalts this gender with an awesome connection to God.

THE ROMANCE BETWEEN JESUS AND HIS CHURCH

 

While He resided on earth, Jesus, despite some unjustified speculations to the contrary, remained celibate. That refusal to marry has been a cause of consternation to some, who see in that a lack of fulfillment, an incompleteness in Jesus.

While indeed rendering Him incomplete, Jesus’ celibacy also rendered Him faithful, for Jesus was betrothed to His Church.

That eloquent passage in Hebrews 11 of godly people who endure suffering for their faith, ends with the following phrase that tells us that these heroes of the faith did not receive the fullness of God’s blessings themselves, because of us and our own contributions:

God having provided some better thing for us that they without us should not be made perfect.”

This statement implies that it must be equally true that “neither they nor us, without Jesus, should be made perfect.”

In quoting Adam in Genesis 2:24, Paul explained to us in Ephesians 5:31 and 32 a mystery of enormous significance, that Adam’s declaration in Genesis 2:23 and 24 applied not only to mankind, but to Jesus as well:

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

Given this statement of Paul’s in the light of Jesus’ celibacy during His time on earth, a second and greatly significant restatement of that ending passage of Hebrews 11 could be made: “. . . even Jesus, God having provided some better thing for us, without us should not be made perfect.”

Scripture actually gives us a sound reason to perceive that the union between Jesus and His Church will be a romantic one. The Song of Solomon is rather explicit in that regard, verses 12 through 17 of Chapter 1 being representative:

“While the king sits at his table, my spikenard sends forth the smell thereof. A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night between my breasts. My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi. Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes. Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant; also our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.”

Perhaps the most appropriate commentary to the Song of Solomon is the one given in the Schofield Bible in its prelude to the Song:

Nowhere in Scripture does the unspiritual mind tread upon ground so mysterious and incomprehensible as in this book, whereas saintly men and women throughout the ages have found it a source of pure and exquisite delight. That the love of the divine Bridegroom, symbolized here by Solomon’s love for the Shulamite maiden, should follow the analogy of the marriage relationship seems evil only to minds that are so ascetic that marital desire itself appears to them to be unholy.

The book is the expression of pure marital love as ordained by God in creation, and the vindication of that love as against both asceticism and lust – the two profanations of the holiness of marriage. Its interpretation is threefold: . . .(3) as an allegory of Christ’s love for His heavenly bride, the Church. . .”

Jesus himself hints at His future joy with the Church as His Bride in the wedding at Cana, John 2:1-11:

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana, of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they lacked wine, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have not wine. Jesus said to her, Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour is not yet come. His mother said to the servants, Whatever he says to you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, Draw some out now, and bear it to the governor of the feast. And they bore it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not from where it was (but the servants who drew the water knew) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and said to him, Every man at the beginning does set forth good wine and, when men have well drunk, then that which is worse; but you have kept the good wine until now. This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana, of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.”

With an understanding of Jesus’ romantic relationship with His Church in mind, a careful reading of Isaac’s marriage to Rebekah in Genesis 24, the Song of Solomon, Isaiah 54, and Jesus’ first miracle in John 2 of changing water to wine at the wedding in Cana, plainly reveals beforehand the mystery that Paul revealed in Ephesians 5.

THE ROMANTIC BOND

 

Of all the possible relationships people may have among each other, the romantic bond uniquely involves three features harmoniously and synergistically combined: functional unity, mutual possession, and shared intimacy.

Of itself, the feature of functional unity is common among relationships. It is the essence of teamwork, wherein individuals, each having specialized tasks, operate together in coordinated fashion to achieve higher-level objectives. Functional unity serves as the most sought-after expectation of armies, factories, sports teams and virtually every human endeavor that requires multiple persons working toward a common goal. Most relationships, however, require instruction and training to achieve that feature of human interaction, and firm supervision to maintain it.

In a good romance, however, teamwork is achieved far more naturally than in other relationships, requiring neither instruction, training, nor coercion. Gender-based specialization automatically delineates the normal roles of the participants, enabling them to interact together in complementary fashion without giving much thought to the process. Moreover, this functional synergism within the romantic bond uniquely complements the other two distinctive features, mutual possession and shared intimacy.

Outside of romance, possession is essentially off the table for normal human relationships. As in slavery or prison, possession of one human being by another is always, with but one exception, unhappy and forced. That exception is a passionate romance, which involves mutual possession as not only a voluntary act by the partners, but a comfort as well, and an expectation that each places on the other. Any situation that threatens that possessive bond, such as a potential romantic interest outside that relationship, is seen in a vehemently negative light. Two of God’s Ten Commandments address that very issue.

Scripture itself sometimes conveys that same sense of possession regarding relationships within the Godhead, between God and humanity, and between individuals. Unfortunately, instances in which possession is the topic is very often misinterpreted by Christians as meaning something entirely different than what the text plainly states. An example of that is found in Jeremiah 10:12:

“[God] has made the earth by his power; he has established the world by his wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens by his discretion.”

This passage has often been interpreted to mean the essential opposite of what it intended to convey. In the common misinterpretation, the words “power”, “wisdom” and “discretion” are taken as attributes of the Father. As this interpretation applies these claims to the Father alone, it effectively denies their potential application to the other Members of the Godhead. In other contexts within Scripture, and particularly throughout the Book of Proverbs, all three of these so-called “attributes” are associated with the Holy Spirit rather than the Father. In an alternate interpretation these “attributes” can be taken to be possessive in nature toward the Holy Spirit. In that context the “attributes” belong to the Father’s Holy Spirit and it is the Holy Spirit who belongs to the Father. Under that very natural alternate interpretation a completely different understanding of that passage results, one with romantic implications.

Another example tends to corroborate the possessive interpretation of the passage noted above, wherein the object of the possession is an Entity rather than a mere thing or attribute. The Scriptural passage for this example is Ephesians 5:25-28:

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

“So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loves his wife loves himself.”

In verse 28 of this passage, the body of the wife is possessively related to the man. The man owns his wife’s body, just as she owns his. Paul was very explicit in this connection in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5:

“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to the wife due benevolence; and likewise also, the wife to the husband. The wife has not power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband has not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud you not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”

The possessive ownership of each others’ bodies, while taken for granted in romantic relationships within humanity, is often avoided in the context of the relationship between Jesus and His Church. Yet Paul was quite explicit in his establishment of that as well, as Ephesians 5 continues in verses 29 through 32:

“For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

But why, if the Church’s marriage to Jesus is to be a meaningful one in the context of our marriages to each other, did Paul in Ephesians 3:28 declare us to be neither male nor female in the spiritual realm? The obvious answer is that we as individuals are simply components of the composite Church, which herself is gendered. Paul alludes to this differentiation between individuals and the composite Church in 1 Corinthians 12:12-17:

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Greeks, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.

“If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it, therefore, not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it, therefore, not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

Given the common misunderstanding of Ephesians 3:28, Ephesians 5:28 is often misinterpreted as supporting the common claim that the Church is the one and only spiritual body of Christ, inferring that the Church is the exclusive repository of that body. In the more natural context of possession, however, the Church belongs to Jesus as a body integral with His own, in the same sense that a wife’s body belongs to her husband as an integral component of his own body, just as Adam in Genesis 2:24, Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and Paul in Ephesians 5:31 directly stated.

Of the three features of romantic love, the third, shared intimacy, is the strongest bonding agent to unite the couple. Other human relationships can involve intimacy, but never to the extent of the sexual union between a man and a woman in their romantic partnership. God designed it that way to impart to the gender-based relationship its unique fullness, to set the couple apart from others as a special inviolate unity. It is the intimacy of their shared sexuality, or the promise of it, in synergy with their shared possession of each other, that gives their romance its very strength of passion. Nothing other than that intimacy provides individuals with a bonding force of that strength or beauty.