August 2015: God’s love-song for the world

The readings for the last Sunday in August included a passage from the Song of Songs, a book unlike any other in the Bible. It is also called the Song of Solomon; you find it just before Isaiah, in the Old Testament. It uses imagery that sounds quite odd to our modern ears, and it is delightfully sexy on a human level. It speaks about God’s heart as well, which is full of love for humanity and all creation. In popular opinion, the Old Testament is full of rules, violence, more rules, and genealogies, but while all that is certainly there, the Song of Songs shows that there is space for other matters too.

When we read such ancient material, we should remember that it wasn’t written with a modern understanding of morality or of science. The writers could only set down the words and attitudes they understood. Human civilisation has progressed a long way since the Old Testament books were written, and we have developed new words, attitudes, concepts and technologies along the way which we now take for granted. What we should do as we read ancient material is discern the direction in which things were changing over time. I suspect the understanding of God as love that Jesus taught would not have made much sense to most of the people of Moses’ time, who needed strict rules to guide their lives on the move.

It is also important to understand that the world has changed since the New Testament was written. Attitudes to women and status in society that were scandalously forward in the first century now seem ridiculously backward. We continue to wrestle with the implications of the priority of divine love over and against the rules, even today. Divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage are examples of the rules debate; but the commandment to love one another ranks higher, according to Jesus. Such love is desperately needed today, with huge numbers of people on the move seeking refuge and/or asylum. Will we share the resources of the Earth that we are given, or seek to keep them for ourselves? Rules, or love? This is the challenge for our decade of the 21st century.

The Song of Songs brings a different kind of scripture for us to think about. It helps us to see that the whole story in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, has a theme song playing in the background, which becomes clearer at certain moments, and as time passes: the song of God’s love for all that exists. Can you hear it? — Steve

Parkdale Church of Christ 2012-18 —A community of faith, hope and compassion.