Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Magnificent God

In this installment we'll be looking at the bridegroom through the eyes of the bride and then look at how her perspective can also be ours. In chapter 5 of the Song of Solomon, she's going through a crisis, a trial, a dark night of the soul. This time of testing has two aspects to it. First, her bridegroom has withdrawn his presence. He's revealed his heart and captured hers but has distanced himself for time of testing. Second, she's taken some hits by those in authority as she's gone out looking for him.

From this place of desperation, she goes to her companions and tells them if they see her beloved to tell him she is lovesick, she desires his presence. Their response is to ask what is he that she should be so enamored with him. They don't understand how she could be so captured by him. They don't ask who he is. They know this, but they haven't seen anything in him to be so lost in love. So twice they ask 'What is he to you?' This is her magnificent response:

My beloved is dazzling and ruddy,
Outstanding among ten thousand.
His head is like gold, pure gold;
His locks are like clusters of dates
And black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves
Beside streams of water,
Bathed in milk,
And reposed in their setting.
His cheeks are like a bed of balsam,
Banks of sweet-scented herbs;
His lips are lilies
Dripping with liquid myrrh.
His hands are rods of gold
Set with beryl;
His abdomen is carved ivory
Inlaid with sapphires.
His legs are pillars of alabaster
Set on pedestals of pure gold;
His appearance is like Lebanon
Choice as the cedars.
His mouth is full of sweetness.
And he is wholly desirable.

We don't have time now to do a line-by-line exposition of these 10 characteristics,[1] but what I do want to observe here, is that within the context of her severe trials, the thing that kept her heart secure was in knowing the beautiful characteristics of her beloved. Knowing his strength, vision, emotions, care of his responsibilities, goals and his ability to achieve what he sets out to do, kept her not just secure, but lovesick. The beauty of who he was and what she means to him kept her confidently unwavering in the face of difficulty. He is both able and willing to save.

In the same way, our hearts are best kept in times of trial by being rooted in Jesus? love for us. It's by knowing what he is, his characteristics, his beauty and his heart, that gives us this same confidence when we face both internal and external difficulties. He may withdraw his manifest presence for a time or we may face physical problems, but in either situation we can seek him and know that he will eventually be found. This is why we're called to worship in spirit and truth. Not because he is some egomaniac that needs to be worshiped, but because as we come before him and he reveals himself to us, we learn what he is and what we mean to him. Discovering the beauty of Jesus is for our benefit, to protect our hearts in the tough times.

This knowledge of Jesus' majestic beauty allowed Paul, facing imprisonment and death, to be able to say to Timothy 'I know in whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep the things I've committed to Him until the day of his glorious return.' (2 Timothy 1:12) Peter, James and John experienced this same reality. Just before the crucifixion, Jesus took them to a mountain and unveiled their eyes. They saw their friend transformed before them, talking with two of the major heroes of the Old Testament. This was unnerving for them at the time. But I think in the long term it served to strengthen them for what was to come. Both for them and us, the revelation of the Lord's beauty serves to anchor our faith in the storms and gives us a glimpse of the joy which will be ours when our faith is finally made complete.

[1] Gary Wiens has a detailed exposition of this passage in a CD series available here.