Let us pretend for a moment that the Song of Solomon is not in the Bible, and you have never read it. You open your copy of Moody Monthly or Christianity Today and read 1:13, 2:3-6, 4:9-11, 7:1-9. What is wrong with this picture? We know there is no way such language would ever appear in such places. Which illustrates the fact that our movement is not as biblical as it thinks it is.
Evangelicals are simply scared of sex. Martin Luther defined history as the story of a drunk man staggering from one wall of an alley to the other as he tries to make his way down through it. And his definition applies just fine to church history too. We have reacted to the worship of sex--especially extra-marital sex--in the culture around us by simply running the other way. We rightly denounce the degradation and obsession that marks the entertainment industry, but what kind of alternative do we provide? The very fact that you could not publish the biblical alternative in a Christian magazine shows that we are not responding very well. Simply taking a negative photo of the world does not necessarily produce a protrait of Christ.
Our inability to deal with this topic has produced strained interpretations of the book. We read it as an allegory of Christ and the Church, not because a single word of the Text actually encourages us to read the book as a Messianic prophecy, but because we feel it just couldn't be about what it says it is about! But the allegorical interpretation is as problematic as all allegorical interpretations of Scripture. Others--Jewish scholars, for example--have come up with equally plausible allegories: that it is about God and Israel, or Man and Wisdom. This way lies a Text with any meaning we want, and hence with no meaning at all.
Not that the Christ-and-the-Church idea is completely worthless: since the NT does use this metaphor of Christ, any description of marriage has an application to that reality. But that is not the primary meaning or message of the book. It is about what it says it is about: the beauty of married love--physical, romantic, erotic.
What then are the lessons of this book for us? First, it has meaning for our marriages. This is Christian sex therapy. If you want to restore passion to your marriage, don't call Dr. Ruth, call Dr. Solomon. And what does he say?
First, he reminds us that it is OK to want romance in marriage, and that God wants us to enjoy it. None of us would deny this, but we do not always feel it. We have made our whole strategy negative--warning young people about the evils of sex, preaching abstinence. And this is right. The Bible itself warns us to flee youthful lusts. But that is not all it does! We, on the other hand, are almost exclusively negative, and then expect people in the 24 hours of their wedding day to do a complete 180 degree turn and suddenly be free to enjoy God's gift. Experience shows that this expectation is not always realistic. And when it is not, Solomon's love song can help.
First, then, we realize that it is OK for us as Christians to desire and enjoy passionate romance in marriage. Then, we put the rest of our relationship in order. Eros will only be healthy when it is surrounded by phileo and agape. Women seem to know this instinctively; they typically do not get aroused by eros alone. Men are more capable of ignoring this truth, but even they do not find eros fully satisfying in any other context. The Song hints at this truth by its use of the brother/sister language in 4:10-12, 5:1, 8:1. Hey, I don't have these feelings for my sister! No, of course not. But the feelings one should have for his brother or sister should also be part of his relationship with his beloved: respect, consideration, affection. So we start with 1 Cor. 13, and then insert the Song of Solomon into the middle of that chapter, as it were. At this point, simply read it together and use your imagination. We will draw the Veil of Modesty over what happens after that.
The Song also has implications for the Church, and we have already hinted at what they are. In our fight against the cheapening of sex in our culture, we must not be solely negative in our approach. We must not just warn against it outside of marriage; we must also praise the beauty of it inside marriage. The world thinks that sex is too good to be limited to marriage. In fighting that horrible error, we often imply that it is not good at all. In fact, we believe it is too good to be cheapened by being pursued outside of the protected environment of marriage. The prohibition of extra-marital sex is not to keep people from having fun; it is to guard and protect them so that they can enjoy God's gift without exploitation and damage. (Being married is unfortunately no guarantee that you will avoid exploitation and abuse; being married is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. But going outside of marriage guarantees abuse of one kind or another.) The lifelong commitment of marriage is the only context in which healthy physical intimacy is possible.
We should therefore praise married love to our young people. And we should let our kids (within the bounds of decency and propriety) see their parents being romantic with each other. Why should they believe God's gift is worth saving for marriage if the married people they know best are bored with each other? We need this book. Let's put the Song of Solomon back in the Bible.
Here endeth the lesson.