“On The Love of God” on Song of Songs 8:6-7 by Joe Ellis — October 29, 2023
Today is going to be the last Sunday where we will be reflecting on the Song of Songs. I do believe it is incredibly valuable to talk about our sexuality in the context of our faith. As His image bearers, He made us with sexuality. This part of ourselves is good, and The Song of Songs sings this out so loudly. Yet, I’ve also found this conversation intense, and I have no doubt that this has been challenging for all of us to reflect on while in community. It’s one of the deepest, core part of ourselves. We’ve been doing a deep dive this last while.
Way back at the beginning of our time talking about The Song of Songs, I mentioned two basic approaches to reading The Song of Songs. One approach looks at The Song of Songs as a celebration of the goodness of romantic human love. For the most part, we’ve taken this approach. Yet, throughout much of Jewish and Christian history, The Song of Songs has been read as an allegory — a picture for God’s love for His People. While I don’t think that this was in the mind of whoever penned The Song of Songs, I do believe this is such an important approach to reading The Song of Songs. We each need to know how deep, how passionate, how tender, how affectionate God is towards us, His people — and reading The Song of Songs as a picture of God’s deep love can help us along the way. I’d like to read verses 6 and 7 once again. This time, as you hear these words, I invite you to hear these words spoken to you, as spoken from the heart of God to you. Hear God’s desire for you:
Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm.
For strong as death is love,
Fierce as Sheol is jealousy.
Its sparks are fiery sparks,
a fearsome flame.
Many waters cannot
put out love
nor rivers sweep it away.
Should a man
give all the wealth of his house for love,
they would surely scorn him.
I wonder — how was it different hearing these verses a second time? Which line moved you the most, knowing this was from the heart of God? What is it like to hear these words as a small expression of God’s heart for you?
“Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm." Probably few of us have an actual seal in our home like the one talked about here. Maybe you’ve seen shows where a king or a ruler takes out their ring and presses their seal against a piece of wax or soft clay. The king is making his mark. With the seal he is declaring, “This is mine." When the King presses his seal into the wax, the thing carrying the seal is indisputably the king’s possession. “Set me as a seal on your heart,” your God and King says to you. Will you allow Him to press His seal into Your heart — in all you think? In all you feel? In your whole inner life? Will you allow Him to press His seal on your arm? In your smallest actions to your biggest? He wants all of you. Your inside life and your outside life. He wants all of you. Can you hear His desire for You? It feels almost vulnerable. “Set me as a seal on your heart?” God is asking you. The Spirit of God desires to press Himself upon you, marking you as His own, His precious possession. Love seeks to possess in the most personal of ways. Love wants our all. Love is not content with half measures. Our God is possessive. Many of us have probably already allowed Him to press His seal into us. This is the seal that Paul speaks of in Ephesians, and the second letter to the Corinthians 1:21-22, “But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us His Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.” The seal is the Holy Spirit — and when we receive the Holy Spirit, God is saying about us: “You are mine forever.” If you haven’t received this seal, how would you like to respond to His desire? “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm.”
The poem continues. “For strong as death is love. Fierce as Sheol (the place of the dead) is Jealousy.” This conversation could make someone uncomfortable. First, God wants to possess you. Now He is jealous for You? He sounds like a demanding lover. Is God safe? Is He a safe lover? No. No, He is not a safe lover. His love knows no bounds. If this isn’t frightening, then you may not be listening. He wants you as His possession. He is jealous for you. His jealousy for you moves Him to sacrifice everything — even Himself. Listen to how jealous He is for you. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:9-10.
It was jealous love that drove Christ to walk into death. His jealous love for you drove Him into the most shameful and painful of deaths. Out of jealousy for you, He was crucified, died, and was buried. It was this same jealous love that indeed proved stronger than death, fiercer than Sheol. His jealous love for you overcome Hell. Jealousy for you led him to take on all the pain, the misfortune, the sin, and the devastation that mires us in this life. His fierce, jealous love came to capture you out of that mire and set you free.
We have no idea how far the extent of His jealous love goes, for his love is a fire. Its “sparks are a fiery flame, a fearsome flame." His love for you is not safe. It is not cool. It is not distant. It will not leave you unscathed and untouched. God’s love is an all consuming fire. How does that sit with you? I think for many of us, it does not sit very well. A favourite pastime for us Christians is to talk about God’s fiery love from a safe distance, perhaps so that we can just see its glow. Then we can tell others how nice is the glow of his fire. But plunging headfirst into this fiery love? We aren’t so sure about that.
This last week I read a short piece of writing from a nun who was born in 1888, her name was Mary Marcucci. Her life was marked by a longing to plunge headfirst into the fire of God’s love. When I read a bit of her writings, I was both drawn and repelled at the same time. It was as if through her words God was asking — “What do you want? Do you really want to experience the fire of my love?”
Listen to Mary’s words, and notice what your response is. Mary writes: “It seems that my spirit is in a wine press, being squeezed by a superhuman power. Moreover, it seems to be in contact with a terrible fire that wants to consume it, and not only my spirit but my body as well. I feel it in my bones, in my blood, in my whole being. And to think that all this happens, as far as I can understand, by the goodness and infinite mercy of my God, who seems to be saying to me: ‘What I make you feel is nothing more than my holiness and love.’” After describing her own experience, Mary turns to you and me, and pleads with us: “Open your soul completely, without any fear of appearing wretched, and you will see how Jesus will make you happy and will make you understand many more things than you know now. Jesus wants this, so give yourself frequently, without fear and without reserve to the divine fire of love so that it can inflame you more and more and consume you until you are ashes…."
What do you think? Are you more attracted or repelled by this invitation? Part of me is scared and wants to keep my distance. But I think a greater part of me desires this greatly. And I want friends to go on this journey with me into the fire of God’s love. What do you think? Can we let go of our Christian tendency to be content with just talking about God’s love — shall we explore together how we might develop practices where we begin to plunge head first into the fire of His love?
Yet we do need to answer this question: “Do I want this fiery love?” Will you practice with me through prayer, meditation, and not just talk about God’s love?
Yet know this: our indifference cannot put out His love. Our apathy cannot put out His love. Our anxiety and our fears cannot put out His love. Our resistance cannot put out His love. Our troubles cannot put out His love. His love cannot be extinguished, as the Song sings: “Many waters cannot put out love, nor rivers sweep it away." I
In the Ancient world, the waters and rivers barely concealed a shadowy force of darkness that modern humans have long since forgotten how to fear. The ancient gods wore a watery cloak of sea and river. These gods had names like Yam and Tiamat and their work was to flood the world with chaos. Many Waters cannot put out love, nor rivers sweep it away. His love holds fast to us in a chaotic world. His love will see us through the valley of the shadow of death. His jealous Love will Hold fast to You when life and chaos threatens to flood and overwhelm you and sweep you away. He says it again in Isaiah 43: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.” It is His love that keeps us safe through the storm.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalm 46:1-3.
Paul proclaims in Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Finally, our poem ends in The Song of Songs this way: “Should a man give all the wealth of his house for love, they would surely scorn him.” This theme plays itself over and over in songs, movies, and books. The theme is this: you can’t buy love. We certainly cannot buy God’s love. This love is the most valuable asset we have. Nothing is worth more. Not our family, not our house, not our job, not our money, not our education, not our hobbies — nothing. You can’t buy this love. Yet this love bought us. We were bought at a price — the blood of Christ.
Yet there is a paradox here. We can’t buy love, but we can give everything for this love: “The love of God is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-45) That was the merchant’s response who loved pearls so greatly. In hearing about God’s great love for you — what will your response be?