Many Christians have a complicated relationship with the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as it’s also called. They skip it when reading through the whole Bible, ignore it in study, and struggle to explain what it’s doing in scripture. Even the idea that the Song is an allegory for the love between God and His people and/or Christ and the church (the dominant interpretation for thousands of years) has been largely abandoned by modern Bible scholars.
In Jewish tradition, the Song is associated with Passover (Pesach) and is read at this time of year. Some say this is just because the song references the spring season. But other rabbis describe this book as the “holy of holies” in the canon of scripture. They accept as a matter of fact that “Israel, in it’s covenant with God made on Mt. Sinai, was married to God” and the people owed Him their “absolute fidelity” (quotes from “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?” by Benjamin Edidin Scolnic).
This assumption explains why the prophets speak so often of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God as marital infidelity. In reference to Hosea, Gerson Cohen said this was “because his Israelite mind had been taught from childhood to think of the relationship between God and Israel in terms of marital fidelity, in terms of love” (quote from “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality”). The Song of Songs might be the most explicitly romantic book in the Bible, but it’s certainly not the only time romantic imagery is used to teach us something about the relationship between God and His people. The Apostle Paul (also a Jewish rabbi) even said after giving instruction to human husbands and wives that “this mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32, LEB).
Covenants and Romance
So what does all this have to do with Passover? For some writers, the Song actually functions as a midrashon Exodus — a commentary in the form of a poetic, figurative retelling of the Exodus story. With this interpretation, “the Song of Songs, according to the rabbis, is a text which describes the very events that Pesah celebrates and commemorates.” You can read more about this viewpoint in Scolnic’s paper (click here).
Even without turning to Jewish midrash, though, we can find connections between God’s romance of Israel and the Exodus story. Take, for example, one of my favorite passages from Hosea: Read more →
INFJs have a reputation for being mysterious creatures. If you’re trying to figure out what an INFJ is really thinking, that reputation is somewhat justified. And judging by the number of people online asking, “How can I tell if an INFJ likes me?” it can be very difficult to figure out if an INFJ is attracted to you, especially in a romantic sense.
As a type which uses Extroverted Feeling to make decisions, INFJs are very interested in maintaining harmony in the outer world. This tends to make them very agreeable people. In groups, we can be friendly and sociable with just about everyone. However, we’re also introverts who spend a lot of time inside our own minds. We’re often reserved, private individuals, leaving many people confused about how we actually feel. In addition, many (though not all) INFJs struggle with varying levels of social anxiety and shyness which makes it even harder for us to make it clear when we like someone.
The following list of ways to tell if an INFJ likes you isn’t going to be 100% true of every INFJ. However, it does reflect general trends in the way many INFJs say that they act and think when they like someone. Read more →
But what about in the church? God’s intention is that there be peace and unity in His church, but we’ve all experienced times when that’s not the case. People in the church fight and bicker. They offend each other. They split church groups. And most would tell you that they’re speaking the truth and the other person is the one at fault.
We always have a responsibility to follow God faithfully and to speak about His truth. And we must always try to do that in a way that points people toward Him instead of pushing them away. However, we won’t always be able to present the gospel in a way that appeals to the world. Jesus preached truth perfectly and people still turned away (John 6:64-67). Within the church, though, we should be able to talk about the truth without hurting each other. So how do we do that?
You’re Not Here For You
Near the middle of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul addresses the question of how the people in God’s church should relate to one another. He talks about different roles Christ set up in the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers) and why (“for the perfection of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ”). The goal in all this is to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” We’re not to be immature Christians any more, easily swayed by new doctrines or tricky, wicked men (Eph. 4:11-14). Read more →
There’s a verse that I’ve found myself praying when I struggle with anxiety, which has been pretty often for the past couple weeks. It comes from Paul’s second letter to Timothy in which he assured the young man that “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7, KJV).
I don’t want to speak for everyone’s anxiety, but for me at least I do feel like it’s often tied to a lack or imbalance of the three things mentioned here. I’m scared when I feel I have no power or others have too much power. My anxiety spikes when I’m not felling loved and looked out for, as well as when I spend too much time turned in on myself instead of actively loving others. And my mind seems unsound or undisciplined when it spins elaborate worst-case scenarios to worry about, or tells me things like “you’re broken and worthless.”
This verse says that I don’t have to stay stuck there. When we have God’s spirit in us, we have access to a part of Him that can replace fear with power, love, and sound mindedness.
There are a few different Greek words that could be translated “power.” The one here is dunamis. Like other words that come from duna it carries “the meaning of being able, capable.” Specifically, dunamis speaks of inherent strength and power (Zodhiates’ and Thayre’s dictionaries, entry on G1411).
We see this power demonstrated when Jesus performed miracles. “All the multitude sought to touch him, for power came out of him and healed them all” (Luke 6:19, WEB). When we’re given God’s holy spirit, this same sort of power that resides in God is put inside of us (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). The power doesn’t belong to us (Acts 3:12; 2 Cor. 4:7), but it is available to us.
Before we can become the best versions of ourselves and have a right view of ourselves, we have to recognize our true value. The world will tell you that your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you have, and that increasing your self-esteem will correct any problems you have with feeling like you’re not enough in some way. But following that advice isn’t deeply satisfying because I think deep down we all realize that we can’t assign value to ourselves.
That begs the question, “Who can assign value to you?” Other people, society, or impersonal metrics aren’t good measures either. The only satisfactory answer is God. Only the Creator can assign value to His creation. He knows what He created you for and who He created you to be, and therefore only He can declare how valuable you truly are.
Solomon experiments with finding value in his own wisdom, in pleasure, in wealth, in fine works, in great power, and in the legacy you leave for future generations. But he describes it all as “vanity” (hebel, H1892) — a transitory, unsatisfactory thing. As we modern people read through Ecclesiastes, we often label Solomon as depressed (probably accurate) and having low self-esteem. But Solomon himself doesn’t describe the problem as not esteeming himself enough. He knows the self isn’t a good place to look for value, and he wants something or someone else to give life meaning and tell him his purpose.
As Solomon works though his existential crisis, he concludes that meaning can only be found in God. God is the one who sets everything in motion and the only one with an accurate perspective on His plan (Ecc. 3:1-15). He’s in heaven and we’re on earth, so we need to be wary of jumping to conclusions about things we know nothing about (Ecc. 5:1-7). In the end, everything boils down to our duty to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecc. 12:13-14). That’s the key to understanding who we are and where our value lies. Read more →
I have lots of thoughts about love. Am I a relationship expert? no. Do I have much experience with romantic relationships? not really. But I’ve read an awful lot of books on relationships, written romances, talked at length with people who’ve had successful (and otherwise) relationships, and thought about it a great deal. In short, I fit David Keirsey’s description of NF personality types as people who are “in love with love.”
So of course when a friend shared a talk on Facebook called “Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person” by British philosopher and author Alain de Botton, I had to watch it. I think I skimmed de Botton’s article by the same name quite a while ago, but sitting down and listening to this talk prompted a whole lot of thoughts that I wanted to write about. Here’s the video:
“It is in fact hope that drives rage. … If we’re to get a little less angry about our love lives we will have to diminish some of our hopes.” — Alain de Botton
If you read the post from two days ago, then you know I already touched on unreasonable expectations in my post “5 Relationship Problems INFJs Often Struggle With.” Those of us (not just INFJ types) with particular romantic ideals and good imaginations might struggle with it more, but the issue of romantic hopes and dreams not matching reality affects everyone.
One of de Botton’s main points is that your will marry the wrong person because our idea of “the right person” doesn’t exist. By and large, we don’t have realistic ideas about what it means to find the right person or even how to love. We need to shift our expectations in the realm of romance. Maybe instead of looking for the ‘right’ or ‘perfect’ person, we should consider it a success when we, in de Botton’s words, “manage to find a good enough person.”
You Are Hard To Live With
“We are basically, psychologically quite strange. We don’t normally know very much about this strangeness. It takes us a long, long time before we’re really on top of the way in which we are hard to live with.” — Alain de Botton
As de Botton says, if you’re human you’re hard to live with. But he also says most of us are blind to the hows and whys. That might be true, but as someone who lives with anxiety I’m also quite certain I’m not easy to live with. I might not know everything that’s wrong with me. I’m probably missing some of the real reasons that I’m hard to live with and have blown other things out of proportion. But my anxiety tells me over and over again that there’s something wrong with me and people won’t, or shouldn’t, want to be around me.
“We tend to believe that true love means accepting the whole of us. It doesn’t. No one should accept the whole of us, we’re appalling.” — Alain de Botton
The way de Botton phrases this bothers me because I know that living with the idea “I’m appalling/ broken/ worthless” isn’t healthy, psychologically. I think the goal should be to arrive at a more balanced view of yourself. Maybe de Botton thought most of his audience needed to be told they’re appalling to help get them closer to balance, but I also think there are people who hear “you’re appalling” way too much (from self and others). What we really need to hear is that we’re worthy of love even though “in everyone, and of course in ourselves, there is that which requires forbearance, tolerance, forgiveness” (to quote C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves).
I’m a big fan of Brené Brown and love the work she does on shame and vulnerability. I know vulnerability is a vital part of human connection and I believe that it’s a good thing. Still, the part of de Botton’s talk where he discussed the vulnerability needed to create a good romantic relationship bothered me.
“We get into these patterns of not daring what we really need to do … [which is to say ] ‘I’m actually a small child inside and I need you.’ This is so humbling most of us refuse to make that step and therefore refuse the challenge of love.” — Alain de Botton
I’m not sure about this one. Yes, extreme vulnerability is needed to build relationships, but I’m also wondering isn’t it better to approach a relationship from a place of I could survive without you, but I really want you in my life rather than I desperately need you? Although, to be fair, he probably isn’t talking about the kind of “need you” that goes along with something like insecure attachment styles.
I also wonder if my qualms about this part of his talk might be more about some of my personal experiences and my fear of being seen as “clingy.” I don’t want to say ‘I need someone’ while I’m single because I don’t want to be that person who’s just all wrapped up in finding a relationship. Even in a relationship, though, I don’t want to say ‘I need you’ because it feels like weakness. I really do feel like I’m a small child inside and I need someone, but there’s also part of me that hates this side of myself.
But shouldn’t asking for what we want and need feel like (and be) something that’s okay to do? I suppose I’m going to have to (somewhat reluctantly) agree with de Botton on this point.
Learning How To Love
I do really like de Botton’s description of love as a skill that needs to be learned. It’s a sad thing that in the world today we’re constantly told love just “happens” or that it’s all about emotion. If that were the case, romance should be pretty easy but it’s not. And because we don’t think of love as a skill or something that requires hard work, we keep trying to find love that “feels good” or where we’re magically compatible. It’s no wonder that we’re continually disappointed.
“To love ultimately is to have the willingness to interpret someone’s on the surface not very appealing behavior in order to find more benevolent reasons why it may be unfolding. In other words, to love someone is to provide charity and generosity of interpretation.” — Alain de Botton
“True psychological maturity … is the capacity to recognize that anyone you love is going to be a mixture of the good and the bad. Love is not just admiration for strength. It’s also tolerance for weakness and recognition of ambivalence.” — Alain de Botton
Love is about so much more than just how we feel. It is an action and a choice. This reminds me of one of the questions that comes up quite often in the personality type community: “Which type is a good fit for me romantically?” The often unsatisfying answer is “any of them.” Oh, there are some types that tend to get along better with each other but type really isn’t a good predictor of which relationships will work out. It’s much more important to find someone who will work to understand you and whom you’re willing to work to understand than to find someone of a “compatible” type.
What We’re Really Looking For
“Quite a lot about our early experiences of love are bound up with various kinds of suffering. … We think we’re out to find partners who will make us happy, but we’re not. We’re out to find partners who will feel familiar. And that may be a very different thing. Because familiarity may be bound up with particular kinds of torture. .. [We may reject people because they will] not be able to make us suffer in the way we need to suffer in order to feel that love is real.” — Alain de Botton
I’ve been pondering this part of de Botton’s talk for days. Is it true in general? Is it true for me? It reminds me of something my ex-boyfriend said about what I think I “deserve” in love, which I don’t want to go into detail about but has been bugging me since he brought it up. I don’t have an answer as to whether or not we’re looking for lovers who will hurt us in all the ways that feel familiar from other people we’ve loved.
However, I do think that as a general rule often times what we’re looking for romantically isn’t necessarily what would be best for us. This goes back to the idea that we’re looking for someone who will just accept and understand us, when in reality we all have parts of ourselves that are hard to live with. We should really be looking for someone who will help us become a better person and with whom we can build compatibility (more on that in a moment).
“You probably believe that when somebody tries to tell you something about yourself that’s a little ticklish and a little uncomfortable that they’re attacking us. They’re not; they’re trying to make you into a better person. And we don’t tend to believe this has a role in love.” — Alain de Botton
I think you should look for someone who loves who you are so much that they want you to grow into an even better version of yourself. They’ll also want you to do that for yourself as much (or more) than they want you to do it for them.
I want to make sure and note, though, that this is a very different thing than someone who tries to manipulate and/or change you “for your own good.” No other human being has the right to decide what’s good for you or mold you into something you’re not. Someone who really loves you will help you grow as yourself, not make you change into what they want.
This is my favorite quote from the whole talk:
“You cannot have perfection and company. To be in company with another person is to be negotiating imperfection every day. … We are all incompatible. But it is the work of love to make us graciously accommodate each other and ourselves to each others incompatibilities, and therefore compatibility is an achievement of love.” — Alain de Botton
“Compromise is noble. We compromise in every area of live, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t compromise in our love life. … Let’s look a bit more benevolently at the art of compromise. It’s a massive achievement in love.” — Alain de Botton