Saturday, January 2, 2016

SOS!

According to Wikipedia, “SOS is the international Morse code distress signal (· · · – – – · · ·).  In popular usage, SOS became associated with such phrases as ‘Save Our Ship’ or ‘Save Our Souls’ or ‘Send Out Succor.’”  But in my usage, it stands for “Song of Solomon,” one of the books of the Bible.  It is interesting, however, in its abbreviated form, to be associated with distress signals, for such is the nature of erotic love, the essential message of the Song of Solomon.

When truly in love, the lover must, when denied consummating that love, ultimately come to distress; distress signals follow (consciously and unconsciously).  But the sexual element, the ordinary and normal means by which erotic love is consummated, is not the essential element in erotic love.  As C. S. Lewis put it, “Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved.”  And so the book SOS, though undeniably and unblushingly about sexual love, is not primarily about sexual love, but about Eros, which as Lewis said, only “wants the Beloved.” 

But how ironic and telling is it that God chose Solomon, a man who loved many strange or foreign women—and because of which, his heart was turned away from wholly serving God (see 1 Kings 11:1-4)—to be the author of a book of Scripture that speaks of erotic love between Christ and His bride!  The irony, and incredible tapestry woven of God intertwining His Almighty essence within man’s utter weakness is about the consummating reality of the marriage between God and man; in fact, the fabric of our reality is this extraordinary fact of God in man.  In the end (and in the end of the book SOS) “my beloved” (the Lord Himself) stands like a “young stag on the mountains of spices” (SOS 8:17).  This, I believe, speaks of God standing on the monument of—and the monumental accomplishment of—the many broken and contrite hearts (the many potpourri shards of perfume) that comprise the body and bride of Christ fully won over by the Bridegroom’s love.  Previous to this consummation is the alluring to wilderness experience, and then, after a door of hope is found there (Jesus Christ), to leaning and ascending up and out of the wilderness via our Beloved, Jesus Christ.  We exit the barren wilderness in order to enter the fruitful Promised Land.  And because fruitfulness is only lawful in marriage (the byproduct of consummation), God must make us one with Himself that we might birth and grow His children (spiritual reality).

We have wandered too far away!  We are in distress!  SOS! SOS!!  “Therefore, behold, I will allure Israel and bring her into the wilderness, and I will speak tenderly to her [to reconcile her to Me].  Then I will give her her vineyards from there, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope and expectation [anticipating the time when I will restore My favor on her]” (Hosea 2:14-15).  And eventually, “I will betroth you (Israel) to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and loyalty, and in compassion.  I will betroth you to Me in stability and in faithfulness.  Then you will know (recognize, appreciate) the Lord [and respond with loving faithfulness]” (Hosea 2:19-20).  Indeed, “He is wooing you from the jaws of distress to a spacious place free from restriction, to the comfort of your table laden with choice food” (Job 36:16).

“‘Do not fear, for you will not be put to shame, and do not feel humiliated or ashamed, for you will not be disgraced.  For you will forget the shame of your youth, and you will no longer remember the disgrace of your widowhood.  For your husband is your Maker, The Lord of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of the whole earth.  For the Lord has called you, like a wife who has been abandoned, grieved in spirit, and like a wife [married] in her youth when she is [later] rejected and scorned,’ says your God.  ‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion and mercy I will gather you [to Myself again].  In an outburst of wrath I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord your Redeemer.  ‘FOR THIS IS LIKE THE WATERS OF NOAH TO ME [emphasis mine], as I swore [an oath] that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; in the same way I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor will I rebuke you.  For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, nor will My covenant of peace be shaken,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:4-10).

The idea of “the waters of Noah” mentioned in Isaiah coupled with this verse of Scripture, “The Lord sat as King at the flood; yes, the Lord sits as King forever” (Psalm 29:10), provokes me to extraordinary heights, of redemption to depths beyond my understanding and ability to ford.  The brief moment of outbursting wrath crests like a tsunami over our heads and crashes down upon us from above in more force than we are able to bear.  Likewise, the everlasting kindness He has compassion towards us with overwhelms us to the degree we can hardly bear.  It would seem that God, in masculine mold, is too much for us (in feminine mold)!  And undoubtedly, in the exchange that is marriage, person for Person, we alone are enlarged and benefitted by the union.  Moreover, all through ancient literature and Holy Scripture feminine beauty is that beauty which is derived and defined from a masculine perspective.  This is no commentary about the equality /inequality of the sexes, except to distinguish mankind’s posture from God’s.  We are the bride of Christ, and we need His masculine posture to define our feminine one.  Our eternal beauty is only a reflecting one of His.  He beautifies by His love; we are worthless, unloved, and without our own internal beauty without Him first loving us. This is an unequivocally established principle throughout Scripture and much ancient literature.  I believe Byron, in “She walks in Beauty,” is saying exactly this; the innocent heart at peace within the seat of emotional man is best described as “she” in the “tender light” of “the night” which the “gaudy day denies.”  She walks in beauty who walks in less than the full light of enlightenment, and thus the feminine posture is the posture of faith (that posture or trait that pleases Him).         

As my friend Mercy Aiken (a resident of Bethlehem, Israel) so eloquently put it—answering the Scriptural question, “Who is this ascending from the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved?” (SOS 8:5)—

It is me, ascending through the years of wanderings and worship and warfare; ascending through dirty, tear-gas littered streets, through calls to prayer from Muslim towers, the perpetual sound of ambulances and all the tears of the humble. (You hold them in Your bottle). Ascending with children in my arms. Ascending with my heart on my sleeve. Ascending after too long with my face turned towards the dust realm. Ascending alone and yet never alone. Ascending only because of Your faithfulness. Ascending with angels encamped about me; ascending and descending on the Son of Man. I ascend because He holds me and will never let me go. I descend for the same reason. This Land is His and I put down a holy foot. I stand on the mountain because He reigns, because He also condescended so low and ascended so high, here in this very place.

Being moved by Mercy’s words, and remembering some revelation the Lord gave me concerning the eighth chapter of the Song of Solomon, I responded.  I noted how just a few verses below—“Who is this ascending from the wilderness, leaning on her Beloved?”—it says “Love is as strong as death” and “Its flashes are flashes of fire, [a most vehement flame] the very flame of the Lord!” and “Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it” (SOS 8:6-7).  This concept of many waters and vehement fire in close proximity, even perhaps consubstantially related, is both the ascension and descension aspects (water and fire) fixed in perpetuity.  Remember, God sits as king at the flood forever (Psalm 29:10), and fire cannot be quenched by flood; indeed, “many waters cannot quench love.”  Angels ascend and descend always because the leaven of heaven is permeating the earth and redeeming it wholly. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).  I see the fire of His love as being unquenchable always, no matter how much the flood of ungodliness tries to drown it. The truest of all pictures of the Holy Ghost and fire is found here in SOS.  We are like volcanic eruptions on the seafloor—an unquenchable fire amidst an overwhelmingly evil context.  Once enough ascension and descension has occurred, however, a seamless chain of causation will be established from heaven to earth (heaven having fully transfigured earth back to her Edenic glory).  Then waterproofed fire (Holy Ghost and fire) will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea.  “Is it not indeed from the Lord of hosts that peoples toil for fire, and nations grow weary for nothing?  For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:13-14).