Not Awakening Love Before its Time
Song of Songs is a rather mysterious book to have in our Bibles. Maybe it’s just that I am not very inspired by poetic images, but I think it’s giving a picture of a love relationship that expresses the thrill of intimacy with God.
In the midst of all the poetry, I have been struck by a very practical teaching that is stated three times: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (Songs 2:7, 3:5 and 8:4). Context is not easy in poetic passages, but this seems to imply that there may come a point in our lives when we are ready for romantic love, and that it is unwise to allow this love to develop prematurely.
The time for romantic love
Verses 1-5 in chapter 3 of this book gives a clue: the woman had found “the one my heart loves” and would not let him go. After much searching, she seems to have found an awareness that the right time has come. Prior to that she was keeping her love in check. Having established he is “the one”, she then brings him to “her mother’s house”. There is a right time for sexual love to be awakened.
God’s plan for marriage is for a man and a woman to come together in a public, committed, loving, covenantal, life-long relationship. This provides a secure environment in which the couple can feel safe to give themselves wholly to one another. Sexual activity outside of marriage (including pornography and fantasy) does not have a safe and secure context and will frequently lead to relationship breakdown.
As an analogy, nuclear power is safe within the confines of a reactor, but outside of that safe and secure environment it has a highly destructive power. Sexual passion is similar when loosed outside of marriage. People can get very hurt when relationships fail and this brokenness perpetuates into the future. Society and children often suffer, and it can be difficult for a person to give themselves fully to someone else because of past experiences.
The culture in which we now live is pressurising us all (children included) to be aroused and awaken love in the guise of lust. How much have we been damaged by the sexual sins of our past? We may be forgiven, but we inevitably still live with the consequences of our own actions or the actions of others.
Restoring our sexual innocence
What might help in overcoming the consequences of sexuality aroused too early? Might there be a means of restoring our sexual innocence, even partially? Certainly, Paul’s advice to the Corinthians (2 Cor 10:5) to “bring captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” is a way to train our minds, but what about the cravings?
Some years ago, I was in a seminar about sexual addiction and the speaker was suggesting that a very successful way of breaking free from the addictive cycle is to be totally sexually abstinent for at least a year. Online recovery communities such as yourbrainonporn.com often cite 90 days’ abstinence as a milestone beyond which the compulsions in the brain to turn to pornography significantly reduce. At the time of the seminar, I thought that an extended time of abstinence was a very hard thing to do – and it is. However, I now realise that it is a very powerful detox that can have great benefits. Its effect can be to “re-boot” our sexuality. Whilst we continue to feed our addictions, we will find freedom elusive. But if we return ourselves to the state where we are not arousing or awakening love at all, the practice of self-control has power to bring freedom from the addiction. Freed from the clutter of the past, we are in a better position to withstand the temptations of our culture.
For those who are married, this period of abstinence can lead to a re-awakening of sexuality that causes us to be aroused only by our spouse – and that’s all we need or want. For those who are single, it provides a greater freedom in celibacy from the relentless pressure of sexual stimulation. And for some singles, God can use it to open the possibility of marriage.
Allowing love to grow
I wrote earlier that godly marriage is a public, committed, loving, covenantal, life-long relationship. It is not fundamentally built on sexual or romantic attraction, although in our culture that would often be part of it. But, just as we all know that sexual and romantic feelings can fade over time, the opposite is just as true - as well as fading they can grow. Within a covenantal life-long relationship, it’s better that they grow rather than fade!
Solomon’s advice is “not to awaken love until it so desires” - with the Holy Spirit’s help and power of self-control (Gal 5:22-25), this is a great principle by which to live.
This article was published in the Spring 2019 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend.