Poetry, friendship, and Jesus

February 22, 2012

In our day, some parts of the church are experiencing a resurgence of interest in the book of the Song of Solomon. Instead of bearing the stigma of an obscure book about love and marriage from the Old Testament, the book is increasingly being understood as an allegory between Jesus and His bride. Though this was probably not the primary reason for its inclusion in the canon of Scripture, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit is evidently seen in its resurgence as it undergirds the New Testament truths of Jesus as a bridegroom and His body as His bride (Matthew 9:15, Ephesians 5:32, Revelation 19:7).

The Song can be enthralling for some because the short phrases and affectionate language can be mined for meaning. Though there is enormous devotional value in the words of the Song, we must remember to hold it in its rightful place as we grow in friendship with Jesus.

Because friendship is based on relational knowledge, we can never grow in friendship with someone solely by reading an elaborate poem written about them. Once we get to know our friend, poetry may bring to remembrance the words and actions of our friend and help us appreciate them more. But the poem itself is not what made us be their friend initially, nor do the words of the poem come to mean more to us than the words from their own lips. No matter how beautifully expressive the writing is, a poem can never replace the presence of the person when it is a person we actually love.

Without question this applies directly to our friendship with Jesus. There must be real substance to our friendship with Him - real knowledge of the things He did, the places He went, and the words He spoke. This has enormous significance because Jesus is the full expression of God (Colossians 1:15-18, Hebrews 1:1-3). Everything Jesus says and does (as well as that which He does not say and does not do) is revelatory concerning God, because He is God. Thus it bears little to no fruit in our lives to study "attributes" of God if they are disconnected from how they are "fleshed out" before our eyes in the life of Christ. Though philosophy tells us otherwise, we have no idea what mercy is unless we see what mercy looks like. One of the foundational reasons why we know God is merciful, for example, is because we see it "fleshed out" in the story of woman caught in adultery (John 8). This is the very reason why the Old Testament constantly remembers God's acts and why the New Testament is filled with commentary and recollections of the words and life of Jesus.

With this resurgence of interest in the Song, I believe we run the risk of building a "relationship" on a faulty foundation because of the way modern Christianity has marginalized the very life and words of our Beloved Jesus as revealed in the four Gospels. I by no means want to undermine the benefits of study and meditation on the Song. The truths within must simply be held in light of how God has fully revealed Himself in the person of Christ. Without a foundation in the Gospels, insubstantial truths from the Song become our "one thing" instead of the precious words and life of Jesus.

As we continue to grow in our appreciation for the Song and the words contained therein, we must never let the language of "dark but lovely" (Song of Songs 1:5) replace the vivid picture of the broken, bloody God-man hanging on a cross. Though we may affirm this verbally, we must not neglect it practically. If there is no substance to the words, the repetition of a "dark but lovely" formula in our devotional life has no lasting power to settle the heart in God's affections. Though they can reinforce the way God has demonstrated His love for sinners saying "yes" to God in their weakness, "dark but lovely" must never become the primary meditation of the believer. The "one thing needed" (Luke 10:42) is and will always be to sit at His feet and hear His word - to behold, to listen, and to remember the precious life of God in the flesh.

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About the author

Joshua Hawkins is a pastor, Bible teacher, and content creator for disciples of Jesus from College Station, Texas. He co-hosts The Apocalyptic Gospel Podcast, a weekly audio show exploring how a first century Jew would have understood the Gospel. He's also an all-around tech nerd and enjoys road cycling.

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