- The over-spiritualization of the Song of Songs is theological body-shaming.
In the last twelve years, I have written these columns about marijuana, mixed martial arts and my monastic adventures. But my 2019 column about pornography got the most attention. Sex sells. Who knew?
Certainly sexual behavior has changed in our lifetimes. But in the last twenty years, these changes have occurred underground. Pornography, hook-up culture and the rise of incels have exploded because it mostly happens online. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind I suppose. There are social consequences to this that have not been quantified.
Naturally I wonder how the Bible is supposed to keep up. When it comes to sexuality I see two questions: What did God intend? And what do we do when what God intends has been broken?
Have you ever read the Song of Solomon? Eight chapters of ancient Semitic, pre-marital erotic poetry. Don’t let anyone tell you it is theological allegory. Good grief. It is a guide to help engaged couples learn lifelong communicate skills. But appreciate God’s genius: When you are a horny, engaged teenager, develop those communication skills by talking about your desire. So as the marital years roll by when a parent dies, your bills are piling up or you are in a midlife crisis, you have already learned to talk openly and honestly (nakedly) with your spouse. Genius. I’ve developed a curriculum for engaged couples that uses this approach.
Unfortunately, however, most of us did not include that in our pre-marital experience. And we did not see that kind of relationship in our parent’s marriages. So what we are seeing, accelerated by technology, are attempts at intimacy that flank the hard but crucial work of open and honest communication. It’s understandable. People need each other. We feel lonely and need connection regardless of our communication skills.
So counselors, workshops and countless self-help books offer communication toolboxes. It would be easier to develop these tools when we are eager teenagers than 20 years later when habits have formed and screens are ubiquitous– but we do our best. Learning how to express feelings, desires and fears is crucial for couples and also valuable for those who’s intimate relationships have relied on pixel porn and Tinder liasons.
Churches also help us reclaim what God intended. We are clubs of admitted failures who are drawn to God’s “I love you anyway” Jesus-solution. There is freedom to be open and honest in these clubs. And healthy churches provide healthy ways for relationships to happen in this context. Typically its small groups talking and praying together as they implement a theology of grace that spreads across the other relationships in our lives. I can communicate openly because I know God loves me regardless of what I need to say. I can be gracious to you in your imperfections because God has been gracious to me. Genius again.
As we turn off our screens and begin to crawl out of our COVID caves, wincing at the brightness of the world around us, hopefully we will cherish anew all that is real and authentic. Especially our relationships.