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A Christian View Of Romance


(Song of Songs 1:1-2 NIV) Solomon's Song of Songs. {2} Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth-- for your love is more delightful than wine.

These first two verses from the Song of Songs flow from the heart of a passionate God. The story of redemption has been called the "divine romance" and that is certainly appropriate. The Church is Christ's bride. Idolatry is adultery. The images of marriage, betrothal and romance are among the best known and deepest analogies to the love of God for His people. God is love and God is romantic.

This clashes with the Deist view of God which sees Him as the detached "clockmaker" who wound up the world and then stood back. That is not the view of Scripture which speaks of a God who is passionately in love with His Creation.
(Hosea 11:8-9 NIV) "How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboiim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. {9} I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man-- the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.

God is not dispassionate. He is not "objective" in the sense of being emotionless and cold. He is involved, He loves, He grieves, He feels.

This brings me to the topic of this article - a Christian view of romance. Is it right for Christians to be caught up in love? Is it OK for us to heap extravagant praise on another human being? Or is the perfect Christian a cerebral creature, controlled and exactly fair? Are Christians allowed to exaggerate with the exaggerations of love? Or is exactness the greater virtue? Can we do mad, wild things for love - or does responsibility always take preference? As you may guess I am going to argue for a large-hearted but pure passion. I believe that life is lived primarily from the heart. Things like faith, hope and love are too big to be rational. They are messy. They take us beyond the boundaries of convention, beyond what we can control and beyond what many think is prudent, sensible or wise. Jesus was often thought to be a madman. Paul was told by a king that he had lost his mind. John Wesley was accused of enthusiasm. The early pioneer missionaries were uniformly thought to be quite crazy.

There is an obvious need to make a distinction between the passionate and pure love of God and the passionate love of our husbands or wives. But lets not make too much of a distinction because Scripture sees a very close relationship between loving people and loving God.

(1 John 4:20-21 NKJV) If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? {21} And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.


The Beloved

In every romance there is "the beloved". Our beloved is God, God's beloved is His Church. In marriage the wife is beloved of the husband and vice-versa. The "beloved" is special. They are beautiful, they are chosen, they are different from any other person. There is no egalitarianism here. I do not treat my wife as "just another woman". No woman on earth is her equal. She does not treat me as "just another man" either. Once the beloved is chosen there is an elevation in status that defies reason, fairness or justice and which is pure grace. I feel that I do not deserve the esteem in which I am held by Minda but nevertheless she gives it willingly. Neither do I feel that I deserve the esteem in which I am held by God but this is something He also gives willingly.

(Ephesians 2:6-7 NKJV) and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, {7} that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

(Song of Songs 2:16 NRSV) My beloved is mine and I am his; he pastures his flock among the lilies."My beloved is mine and I am his.." that is part of romance.

Christian romance is not "open". Real romance does not permit the entry of other lovers. True romance cherishes the beloved to the exclusion of all competition. Romance allows the beloved to "possess" you. As the love expressed in the Song of Songs matures there is a slight but significant reversal of 2:16 in 6:3

(Song of Songs 6:3 NRSV) I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies.Do you notice the difference? Now she says "I am my beloved's.." first of all. Instead of her joy being first of all in having him as her lover she now rejoices first of all in being his. She has matured. She has surrendered to love.

In the romance between us and God we most often start out with "I have found Jesus" over the years that matures into "Jesus found me". We have a sense of being God's beloved. We realize that He cherishes us. That our love for Him is returned a thousand fold. That He, the God of Heaven, is excited about "little ordinary old me..". To Him I am special. That is what grace means. I am chosen (not because I deserve it) I am special, I am loved. Christian be excited! You are God's and He loves you. He treasures you and adores you. He will keep you as the apple of His eye.

Honor

(1 Peter 3:7 NRSV) Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life--so that nothing may hinder your prayers.

(Song of Songs 5:15-16 NIV) His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars. {16} His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.

Romance honors the other. It is OK to put your beloved up on a pedestal. I am not advocating silliness or obsession. I am advocating a romantic love that finds the good and which pays attention to it. In Scripture honor is not only from the lesser to the greater but also from the greater to the lesser. The Bible often calls us to honor those who are less powerful than us or poorer than us. We are to honor our wives, our parents, the aged and the elders in the church especially those who teach diligently. In the romantic love of Christ we are to honor people and to exalt them.. Not only should we glorify God but God also wants to glorify us.

(Romans 8:29-30 NKJV) For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. {30} Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Mean-spiritedness and cutting down of tall poppies is not a Christian virtue. In fact God desires to honor people. (John 12:26 NIV) Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. If God is not ashamed to honor us then we ought not be reluctant to honor one another. In fact we are commanded to do so. (Romans 12:10 NKJV) Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.

In romantic love the honor given to the beloved can seem extreme and exaggerated. Even a cursory reading of the Song of Songs astonishes most people. "No-one could be like this" is a common comment. The truth is that no-one is like that except in the eyes of the beloved. When God looks at me He sees someone utterly lovely. You probably would think God daft for thinking that of me. I often don't feel lovely and when I think of myself I don't think "gee I must be attractive to God". That would be almost blasphemous.

When God sees His people as lovely it is because He chooses to see them that way. He chooses to honor them. He is fully aware of my faults and sin but that does not deter His passionate love. Because He sees me as lovely then I will become lovely. His love will win the day and I will be "holy and blameless without spot or blemish" when Christ returns.

(Ephesians 1:4 NKJV) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,

Honoring our husband or wife can be quite an extravagant thing. We may have to be parsimonious with money but we need not be parsimonious with praise. Praise is free so we can be free to praise! Solomon heaped praise on his beloved and this was returned. We reap what we sow. Your praise of your partner is the key to your partner wanting to honor you. Harsh critical people often feel they are missing out on the honor and praise they deserve. Less able or less disciplined people seem to get all the rewards. Because harsh critical people do not sow praise and honor therefore they do not reap it. Instead they are often ignored and condemned while more positive people who are patient with others and who honor them reap the glory. If you want to be honored then change your ways and honor others.

Jealousy

(Exodus 34:14 NIV) Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

(Song of Songs 8:6-7 KJV) Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. {7} Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.

Jealousy is a name and an attribute of God and it is part of love itself. Jealousy is love's boundary. It is the "electric fence" that keeps out intruders on the covenant. It stops love "being trampled by the neighbors cattle".

A distinction needs to be made between unreasonable envious petty jealousy and jealousy that is proper to a relationship. Jealousy is meant to defend love and not to destroy it. If jealousy is eroding the marriage and making it into a hostile suspicious battleground then it is no longer doing its proper job. Jealousy is not good in and of itself. It is only good if and when it protects the covenant relationship.

During the 1960's there was a lot of talk of the value of "open marriages" and not being jealous and having multiple partners. As people lost anchorage in the biblical revelation they went and tried new forms of sexual relationship and the consequences were disastrous. Not even the Almighty is that "open"! Love by its very nature needs the security of a covenant. We need to be able to say "My beloved is mine and I am his and his banner over me is love..".

Jealousy is aroused when someone or something else takes first place in the heart of the beloved. I know of one woman who left her alcoholic husband because "she could not compete with the bottle". God will not share us with other deities or with "the world".

(James 4:4-5 NKJV) Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. {5} Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, "The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously"?

Jealousy says "According to our agreement I should be first in your life. These other things should be second, third and last, some of them should not even be there at all". For instance if a husband is often confiding in another woman who "understands him" then that is improper. This woman is usurping the role of confidant that rightly belongs to his wife. This is a boundary violation and the wife is not being unreasonable if she asks for it to be corrected. Yes it is "being jealous" but it is a right and proper jealousy.

Timing

(Song of Songs 2:7 NIV) Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

(Ecclesiastes 3:8 NIV) a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Romance is odd. It has its own timing. We see this with people becoming Christians. We teach and preach and pray and nothing seems to happen for years then one day "for no apparent reason" they get converted and fall in love with Jesus. It is also like that with falling in love. It is impervious to reason, it cannot be made to happen, but when it does watch out! Love has its time. The Song of Songs tells us not to awaken or arouse love until it pleases and it says this a number of times in fairly strong terms. Why? Because if we are manipulated into loving someone it like they have invaded our innermost being where our deepest and most personal choices are made. Eventually we rebel and the reaction is often quite strong and destructive. The manipulated person tends to feel angry and cold and does not easily forgive. The lesson for most of us is- don't try and create a fire if there is no spark!

When the season for love comes then it is wonderful . The spark becomes a flame very quickly indeed!. When I was young I wasted enormous amounts of energy trying to turn good friends into girlfriends. I thought that was the way it "should happen". But love has its seasons and is obstinate. My observation is that if there is a "spark' and a "click" between two people then it is generally there from day one. (With a few exceptions of course). I am currently of the opinion that if someone is truly "just a good friend" and has been that way for a number of months then it is unlikely they will ever be anything more. Jacob loved Rachel from day one when he saw her at the well. There was "spark" and romance that endured. He was a one woman man. Poor Leah , all of Laban's cunning and her own intrigue could not make her the beloved. Love has its time and chooses its object and nothing can budge it.

Sexuality

True romance is always heterosexual. The romance between Christ and the Church is between a bridegroom and His bride. The romance in the Song of Songs is blatantly heterosexual. It celebrates the differences between the genders and rejoices in the sexual act. There is a sense of wonder in the sexual attributes of the other.. This is in sharp contrast with the Greek view of love which at times enshrined homosexuality as the ideal. Writings such as Plato's Phaedrus extol the virtues of love between an older man and his teenage male lover. This was so abhorrent to the writers of the New Testament that they never used the common Greek word "eros" to describe Christian love, possibly because of its strong homosexual connotations

The Hebrew/Christian view of romance is never asexual or homosexual. When love is between people of the same gender it is not romantic love. It is friendship or Christian fellowship and regard. Love between the same gender is "agape" or "phileo", words which generally carry few implications of romance. The Hebrew word for love "ahab" of very broad application similar to the English word love but it never refers to homosexuality. In fact its context is a covenant that stipulates that homosexuality is clearly sin.(Leviticus 20:13) Less obvious is the fact that true romance is never asexual. It is never unappreciative of sexuality. It does not suppress gender differences and it is rarely politically correct. As the romantic French say "vive la difference" - in other words long live the differences between the sexes! Asexuality is sub-Christian and certainly not part of the Song of Songs!

The celebration of sexuality within the bounds of Scripture and of marriage is an important part of the Christian view of romance. Though the romance begins before marriage with attraction and betrothal it is in the act of marriage that it finds its highest consummation. Sex is not bad. It is very, very good. It is not wrong for a Christian to enjoy sex or to sexually appreciate their husband or wife. If the Song of Songs teaches us anything it teaches us that being appreciative of the sexual side of life is normal and good and can be a very high and beautiful thing to do.

(Song of Songs 7:7-11 NIV) Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. {8} I said, "I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit." May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, {9} and your mouth like the best wine. May the wine go straight to my lover, flowing gently over lips and teeth. {10} I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me. {11} Come, my lover, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages.

Privacy

If sexuality is to be celebrated there needs to be privacy hence the frequent references to "the chamber" in Song of Songs. The deepest recesses of romance are essentially private. The attendants of the bride and bridegroom can see the joy of the couple but they cannot enter the inner chamber with them. Every romance needs a certain amount of "private space" free from intrusion. This includes our romance with God and perhaps is part of the reason that mystics seem to spend so much time alone. The deepest parts of prayer are private.
(Matthew 14:23 NKJV) And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.

Intimacy develops in the small things and most couples develop a sort of "communication code" of shared jokes and references that only they understand. The core of the marriage eventually becomes a treasure-trove of memories and affections. Even the children do not fully understand it. That is right and proper. Occasionally this boundary is violated and this can happen in two ways. Firstly it can be overdone so that the couple live in a self-absorbed world of their own and share their joy with no-one. Blessings hoarded soon turn stale and such marriages sometimes become inward, strained and sometimes abusive. The other extreme is that they talk about their intimate affairs with all and sundry. This cheapens and weakens the marriage eroding basic trust. Who would trust their partner with anything if it will soon become church or town gossip?

This also reflects on sexual restraint before marriage. Why should you admit someone into the most private area of your body and soul if they are just using you for recreation? Surely these things are best saved up for the person you will share them with on a life-long basis. For the person who will treasure them and you.

Final Reflections and A Radical Suggestion

This essay has visited a few of the major stops on the journey called romance but romance will always remain a mystery. I don't wish to put anyone down when I say this but I think many of our marriage books in Christian circles make the whole thing far too complicated. One I have finished reading strongly advocates having a support group and therapist! It seems over-complicated and absurd. Here is my radical suggestion. That we stop thinking about relationships and start thinking about people. Yep! I am 100% serious.

There is no commandment that says anything like "have a good marriage" The Bible tells me to think about my wife and to love her. That's different. I can control how I treat my wife. I cannot control her response to me. The focus in Scripture is objective not subjective, on the person not on the state of the relationship. Solomon does not cry out 'what a wonderful relationship we have', instead he says "what a wonderful bride you are!". The focus is primarily on the person not the relationship.

If we focus on the person everything simplifies very quickly. "What does my wife need today?" becomes the appropriate question. On the other hand I suspect that focusing on the relationship is in fact a roundabout way of focusing on what we are receiving from it. When I think "our relationship is no good" what I am often thinking is "she is treating me badly today" or something similar. I am focusing on what I am receiving and "fixing the relationship" often means "making sure I get what I want out of it".

While that is a better attitude than ignoring the warning signs it is, in my view, a bit short-sighted and does not properly sow good things into the other person's life. I see romance as centered on the person not on an abstraction called "the relationship". Similarly we can get bogged down with worry over "our prayer life" when it would be quickly revitalized if we focused on God and in obeying and adoring Him. Focusing on the prayer life kills it. Focusing on the Person is life itself!
(John 17:3 NIV) Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

May I quickly say that I do not intend the above "radical suggestion" to be a harsh criticism of anyone at all. It is an observation about how tangled and complicated the whole marriage guidance scene has become and reflects my personal desire for a simpler approach. Feel free to think about it and toss it around (or even toss it out).

Romance is at the core of my being and it infiltrates all I do. That I think is right. Romance is not something we do after work. It is the furnace inside us that enables us to work.

(Genesis 29:20 NKJV) So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her. I hope that this article has helped you and perhaps intrigued you, into letting romance flow into both your Divine and human relationships.

 

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.