The auditorium was packed with college students sitting in red, cushioned chairs anxious to hear the speakers Eric and Leslie Ludy talk about love and dating. Authors of When God Writes Your Love Story, the Ludys encourage their readers to wait for the spouse God has planned for them. I, like the other students, sat with full attention during this chapel service hoping to hear the secret to romantic bliss. It was not the first and only message I heard about dating. Like many of my counterparts, I read books such as I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Passion and Purity, and Lady in Waiting. These books and their content invaded conversations in dorm rooms, cafeteria tables, and walks between classes. The tension flowing from dating and the desire to find the one was palpable at our small, Christian college–palpable and actually dangerous.
Don’t Awaken Love
Sprinkled throughout the love song of Song of Solomon is a very strange refrain: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” This seems odd in a book about love. However, this phrase is stated three separate times in the book–an important number in Hebrew studies. In fact, Rabbi Dr. Hilel ben David states, “The number three is used in the Torah to mediate between two opposing or contradictory values. The third value mediates, reconciles, and connects the two. Three is the number of truth.”
While this might have no bearing at all on the current text, it is still a good rule to notice any statement which is repeated in scripture. Rabbi Hilel’s definition also seems eerily accurate. Note in Song of Solomon, the beloved’s statement seems to come between two contradictory values: her intense love and her warning to not awaken love. In these passages, this admonition often comes while describing her feelings for her beloved. In one case, she is literally love sick and wandering around looking for him. There are many interpretations of this odd interjection. I’d like to humbly propose my own–perhaps romance isn’t as desirable as we would like to believe.
A Strange Thing to Say
This is a strange thing to say, in the church especially—though it should not be, since Paul himself, author of thirteen NT epistles, espouses this same theory. “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.” (1 Corinthians 7:7 ESV). In this same chapter, he encourages people to not seek marriage stating, “yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that” (1 Corinthians 7:28 ESV). He goes on to explain how a married person is filled with anxiety about how to please their spouse. This can be a distraction from serving the Lord. In addition, a reading of Song of Solomon presents images of intense pleasure but also of deep despair and emotion. Any person who has ever been romantically involved knows the intensity of emotion which accompanies this relationship, both good and bad.
Does this mean we are never to get married? It’s important to let Scripture interpret Scripture. There are plenty of other passages, including Paul’s own words, which describe the beauty of marriage and its purpose going all the way back to creation. However, the church’s overemphasis on marriage neglects an important biblical message–marriage is not for everyone. It should not be sought as a necessary event of the Christian life.
This is Needed
This is especially important for our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters choosing a life of celibacy to honor the Lord. This is also for those in our congregations who are widowed, divorced, or single and who feel their status is as an anomaly which needs to be corrected. Singleness, like marriage, can be difficult, but we treat singleness as a disease that can be treated with the medicine of marriage. This is odd since Jesus states that some people will be single by choice, some choosing to serve God in this way (Matthew 19:12).
Related Post: To Those Who Are Confused
In our desire to defend traditional marriage, the church has overemphasized marriage. The description of the value of number three speaks of the importance of mediating between opposing views. In our case, we must find the biblical balance between valuing God-ordained marriage and God-ordained singleness.
God Ordains Singleness
First, we must rescue the culture of singleness. The overemphasis on sexual expression makes the idea of a celibate lifestyle seem impossible. Through the centuries, though, there were many examples of people who willingly chose a celibate lifestyle. This includes leaders of the early church such as Paul, theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas, priests, monks, and even scholars. C.S. Lewis spent most of his life single, and his choice was not thought to be odd. We need single role models who are held up in the church as leaders and models. Can you think of any Christian leader who is single?
Second, we must discuss the warnings of seeking romantic love as an ideal. For one, there is pain and distraction which can come as a result. God, of course, can use these to grow us and mold us; however, we should heed the warnings of Song of Solomon and not be quick to seek romantic love. Many relationships that began at my Christian college ended in divorce. We need to stop believing that this is God’s plan for every person, and we need to speak to the dangers of giving ourselves emotionally and physically at the wrong time. Instead, we need to encourage people to wait on God and be patient rather that prematurely seek relationships which might be harmful.
Finding Middle Ground
The history of the church has shown us swinging back and forth on the pendulum of idolizing singleness or marriage. My own college experience testifies to the unhealthy emphasis that is put on Christian singles to find a spouse. Perhaps it is time we found the balance where we can see God’s hand and pleasure in both. If we can remove the stigma associated with being single and also communicate the warning of not pursuing romantic relationships as an end goal, maybe we can find the middle ground which welcomes all and still keeps the ultimate focus on relationship with God first.
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