Review: "Jesus, lover of my soul" by Julian Hardyman
If asked to consider some words to describe my relationship with Jesus, top of my mind might have been Saviour, Friend, Redeemer, Comforter or Brother. There are many other wonderful descriptions I might have thought of but, if I’m honest, I’m not sure “Lover” would have come up.
Julian Hardyman’s book “Jesus, Lover of My Soul: Fresh Pathways to Spiritual Passion” recognises that this is true for many of us and deep dives into the idea of Jesus as a Lover, primarily through the Song of Songs. Hardyman takes care to show how “the Song” (as he refers to it) is not just an exploration of human love but also divine love, not just in terms of Jesus’ love for the church, but on an individual and very personal level.
I often teach about human sexuality and how it points to our longing for Jesus and eternal fulfilment in the new creation. Whilst absolutely true (and indeed this is explored by Hardyman in the book), what is taught less is the concept that, if we are in Christ, Jesus also desires us and finds us desirable. Hardyman invites us to hear Jesus tell us in the Song, “Ah, you are beautiful, my love; ah, you are beautiful” (Song of Songs 1:15 NRSV). When we are clothed in Jesus’ righteousness, Christ looks at us and sees His beauty. One picture of this that I found helpful was the idea of our inner life as a garden and Christ as a gardener. Like gardens, we take work and are a bit of a mixture. There may be weeds and slow-to-grow fruit trees, but then there are also beautiful flowers. Christ, as the gardener, sees it all and is the one that creates this beauty in us. Given that when we look at ourselves, we often do so in judgement, Hardyman takes care to unpack these ideas, anticipating the reader’s “surely not?” when we are described as beautiful. He underpins all points with clear evidence from scripture, including dedicating a chapter to the biblical arguments for a spiritual reading of the Song.
As well as the love and delight that awaits us in Christ, Hardyman also helpfully acknowledges the distance we sometimes feel in our relationship with Jesus, highlighting how this is also reflected in the Song. It was reassuring to see how the Bible acknowledges this as a normal part of the Christian life. Like in our earthly relationships, there are times of distance and also of closeness. When Christ seems distant, we need to persevere and trust He knows what He is doing as we seek Him again.
In a book about love, longing, desire, and sexuality, I was initially surprised that Hardyman had no references specifically to same-sex attraction. I don’t, however, feel like this was an omission. All the truths still wonderfully apply, and there is an underlying assumption that we are all broken and sexual sinners, regardless of our sexuality or relationship status. We’ve all “spoiled the garden” and need Christ to make it new. Given that the surface reading of the Song is about human relationships, there are some applications included for both singles and married couples especially, yet Hardyman intentionally keeps these brief before moving on to focus specifically on our spiritual relationship with Christ. One topic addressed for slightly longer is pornography use, acknowledging it as a huge issue and linking it to the idea of unfaithfulness to Jesus as our Lover. Whilst there was no scope for an in-depth exploration of the topic, Hardyman goes straight to the heart of the issue in a firm, loving, and practical way.
Given that the Song of Songs is not the most accessible part of the Bible, I found having a tour guide to help navigate some of the archaic similes of love (think pomegranates, doves and goats here) useful and, without Hardyman’s help, would have missed many of the spiritual implications of the Song. The book is very readable, with short chapters followed by brief questions and prayers. There are as many references to song lyrics from The Killers as there are Puritan writings, which help keep things light. I would recommend this book; take your time with it, read it alongside the Song of Songs, and allow it to grow your heart’s understanding of Christ’s love for you.
This review was originally published in the autumn 2021 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the autumn 2021 edition of Ascend