Recently, I had a discussion with my fiancée about the idea of Song of Songs being utilized as an analogy for Christ and the Church. Song of Songs is clearly a book about love, even erotic (eros) love. There are verses like 1:4 “Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers” or 6:3a “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” If we are to apply such verses to the life of a Christian and his or her relation to God, we can see it sometimes as an almost uncomfortably close relationship. We aren’t comfortable thinking of our love of God as this kind of intimate desire; a desire for union, to be brought into the chambers of our God.
Yet it is exactly this kind of intimacy–this kind of eros love–which God has planned for us. Song of Songs is such a beautiful book because of this exact thing. It teaches us that we need not be ashamed of the kind of union we desire with God. We are sheep lead astray, and our one desire should be to return to our Lord, in whose arms we find peace and love.
There are other verses in Scripture wherein we can see this idea. Psalm 84:2 states “My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” Psalm 63:1 puts it eloquently, “Oh God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.”
My favorite exposition of these ideas is found in Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief, of all places. In this monumental work, Plantinga discusses the very idea of God’s love as eros. I feel compelled to quote him at length:
This love for God isn’t like, say an inclination to spend the afternoon organizing your stamp collection. It is longing, filled with desire and yearning; and it is physical as well as spiritual… It is erotic; and one of the closest analogues would be with sexual eros. There is a powerful desire for union with God… What is to be made of this phenomenon? Most psychiatric literature has tended to follow Freud in understanding religion as a kind of neurosis, the ‘universal obsessional neurosis of humanity.’ From this point of view, the religious eros is to be understood as a kind of analogue, displacement, or sublimation of (broadly) sexual energy…
From a Christian perspective… here (as often) Freud has things just backwards. It isn’t that religious eros, love for God, is really sexual eros gone astray or rechanneled… It is sexual desire and longing that is a sign of something deeper: it is a sign of this longing, yearning for God that we human beings achieve when we are graciousliy enabled to reach a certain level of the Christian life. It is love for God that is fundamental or basic, and sexual eros that is the sign or symbol or pointer to something else and something deeper.
[S]exual eros points to two deeper realities… human love for God… [and] a sign, symbol, or type of God’s love. (Plantinga, 311-318)
Those who have had religious experiences in which they felt a kind of union with God can attest to what Plantinga is describing. The kind of mystical union we experience when we are granted the chance to commune with God in a relation of creature-creator is beautiful, to the point of being even sensual. It is something which we long for; something we look forward to in the hereafter.
This also serves to help describe the kind of feelings involved in religious experience. It is a kind of fulfillment of a yearning and a quenching of thirst. Our longing for God is part of humanity. Plantinga argues it is part of our sensus divinitatis–our inborn sense of divine reality. Only when we submit to God and experience relation with him can our deepest desires be realized.
Alvin Plantinga. Warrented Christian Belief (New York, NY: 2000, Oxford).
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