Eight slim chapters of the bible comprise the entirety of this story written by a man named Solomon. It's called the Song of Solomon, since it was written by him, and it reminds me of a Shakespeare play. It’s full of interpersonal, racial, and socioeconomic conflict, and there's poetry, drama, singing, and analogies, metaphors, and legions of other literary devices.
And there’s a love story. At its deepest, truest essence, Song of Solomon is a love story, and I love a good love story. Maybe I know that despite relationships firing up or burning away all around me, true love is a rare thing, and I want it. I connect with it deeply.
This particular love story takes place between two characters: a character who represents God, and a character who represents us. This is their love story.
The second line in this ancient love story is spoken by the main character who represents you and me. This person says to the God character, “your love is better than wine.”
The Ministry of Wine
Ancient Hebrews drank wine liberally. It was present at every joyful occasion, at every celebration, and I’m no bible scholar or historian but I think it was probably delicious. Those were fantastic grapes, grown in the semi-arid soil of the Middle East with great drainage and sunshine year round.
People haven’t changed much in 2000 years--alcohol still makes us delightfully uninhibited, full of joie de vivre and hilariousness and warm, fantastic joy. If we’ve not personally experienced this kind of fun, we’ve all seen somebody who is utterly drunk and living his best life.
Wine makes us happy, and what this character in Song of Solomon is saying is, “loving you is the happiest I have ever been. Even wine doesn’t make me this happy.”
Do you know anybody who says this and believes it? Do you know anybody whose face lights up when he talks about how loving God makes him drunk with happiness? If you do, you’re lucky--and rare.
We talk about loving God all the time, but so often it sounds like a death knell. “Love God” they preach at us--and it sounds like a battering ram, like another whip to drive us to morality. “You should love God,” they say. Or maybe it’s just that all these years I’ve read my bible and I think, “If I really loved God….” And I feel the shame of knowing there are places in my heart that don’t really.
Wanting to love God is one thing. But playing my part in an epic love story is another thing.
Does It End Here?
Can I beckon you to another scene in Song of Solomon? Four chapters of this play have traversed this stage, and now we’ve come to the fourth chapter, and the tenth line. This time, the God character is speaking to our character.
The God character says, “How much better than wine is your love….”
In other words, your love is better than wine. Four chapters later, and the God character is breathing the same words to us that our character spoke to God. The God character uses the same words to you that your character used to God.
Here are other ways God might be expressing those feelings:
I am happiest loving you and being loved by you.
I choose your love over anything else.
I want your love.
Your love makes me happy.
Suddenly, this God character isn’t stern or difficult to please; God’s character doesn’t treat love as some kind of due. God’s character doesn’t thunder down on the us character and say “I don’t want your love, I want your morality.” No! The God character is responsive. Our character’s love moves this person. Our love stirs up God’s heart. Now, it’s a dynamic, living, breathing interchange that takes on a life of its own.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but God chooses our love--and we all know that love isn’t love unless it’s freely given. If it’s been manipulated into happening or strong armed into happening, it’s not love. And that’s why it’s so valuable and miraculous and amazing and precious and that’s why God wants it! That’s why God wants it.
Lest you think we just took some alternate reading from a strange part of a strange story, let’s go to John’s eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, and look at one of the most famous set of chapters in the bible.
Some of the deepest most profound theological concepts come out of chapters 14, 15, and 16 in John. They are packed--you could spend your whole life in these chapters. You know what? I’ve heard them preached on and have studied them my whole life, and in all these rich and glorious chapters, I’ve never even heard this one tiny little verse in the fifteenth chapter, verse nine:
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”
Jesus is God’s son, but he’s also God. When Jesus references his father, he’s referencing God: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”
Let’s put it this way, because that archaic “so” is awkward and bulky: I love you as much as God loves you.
Jesus loves me as much as God loves Jesus.
The same amount that God loves God, God loves you.
Too Good To Be True
Obviously, that’s huge, but honestly? My heart hears that and throws up some barriers.
That sentence is so good, that maybe it’s too good.
Life experience tells us that if somebody tells you something that’s too good to be true, and you believe him, you get left high and dry. Tell me you haven’t faced a relationship where somebody’s told you something that was too good to be true, and then you believed her, and then you got hung out to dry, because what she told you wasn’t true--it was too good.
Tell me you haven’t lost money, a job, social standing, security, your integrity, or your life, because somebody told you something that was too good to be true.
Our innards can scream THIS IS DANGEROUS all they want (and it is!) but that doesn’t make it less true! Evil, hurtful people don’t make it less true! Liars don’t make it less true! It’s like uncovering the truth about the life we could really be living after years of deception and manipulation and deep pain.
God loves Jesus and in that same incomprehensible amount, he loves us. He wrote a love story about us and God, didn’t he?
Directly after Jesus drops that little bombshell of a sentence, he says something else. He says, “abide in my love.”
If you’re like me, you’ve grown up in church and you’ve heard this verse a lot. The word “abide” is big-time Christianese. I mean, we don’t use it anymore in real life. When somebody asks us where we live, we don’t say, “I abide in Austin.”
It’s sort of archaic, so I love the way The Message translation of this passage (the original was written in Greek) gets to the heart of things:
“Make yourselves at home in my love.”
Those words taste beautiful when you roll them across your tongue, don't they? Here’s the whole passage:
“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.” John 15:9-10
This love of Jesus, this incomprehensible love that is in the same amount as God’s love for him, is our address, our neighborhood, our zipcode, our ethnicity, our nationality. It’s our home.
Jesus isn’t inviting you to come up for a quick roadtrip. He’s not asking you to come stay for an afternoon. The invite isn’t just for the weekend.
He says, I don’t want you to buy a summer house here. I don’t want you to make a quick business transaction here. I don’t want you to come for the day and go home at night. I don’t want you to rent here.
I want you to live here.
Build your forever home here, in his love. Custom build the perfect house--the house of your dreams. Hang the curtains. Paint the walls. Grow the garden in the back. Hang photos on the walls.
Make my love your home, he tells us. This is where you live. This is where you stay--permanently. This is not a place to enjoy for the duration of a conference, but after the conference you go back to your real life.
I don’t want you to come home periodically, I want you to live at home. My love is your safe place. Make my love your home.
The Song of Solomon love story we talked about earlier? If you haven’t read the whole thing, I’ve got a spoiler alert for you: it’s a love story that you and I are invited into. Here's another spoiler alert: this love story doesn't end.