Tag Archives: song of solomon

How genre is vital to the Bible [False ideas Christians believe about…the Bible. Part 3]

6 Mar

We read the instruction manual for our car differently than we will read Shakespeare’s sonnets, right?  We read the Declaration of Independence different than we read Huckleberry Finn.  As we should.  The authors of each of those documents are utilizing different literary genres to accomplish a purpose. 

Genre is a fancy word that just means “category.”  It is often used to describe different kinds of literature or movies or music.  The Bible, too, includes poetry, lists, history, law codes, letters, parable, prophecies, and more.  Therefore, one of the first things we should do when we start reading something in the Bible is ask, what genre am I reading? 

That goes back to what we already said when we discussed inspiration: the author of each books in the Bible is actually two authors, a combination of God and humans.  God inspired humans to write, so both are the author.  Thus we ask what did God and the human author try to communicate to us?  One of the first steps to determining the message of the text is to answer another question: what literature category or genre did they use to try to communicate?

We are so used to asking and answering this question that we do it without thinking.  You do it all the time. 

When you pull out your car’s owner’s manual, you are in information mode.  You brain automatically assesses that this an instruction manual, and therefore you aren’t going to treat it like poetry. 

Think about it.  Imagine trying to read your car owner’s manual using the principles that we would use for reading poetry!  It would go like this: “The spare tire is located in a hidden compartment in the trunk?  Hmmmm…That must have a double-meaning and Honda is trying to tell me something…but I’m so bad at figuring out this stuff…why don’t they just speak plainly???”  Uh…no…all that manual is trying to say is that there is actually a spare tire hidden in a compartment in the trunk. 

Likewise when I am reading the Psalms in the Bible, I am reading a collection of poetry.  If I want to understand what God and the human author are trying to communicate, I will need to read each psalm like I read poetry because God and the human author used the principles of poetic writing to create the psalms. 

And that brings us to the idea of taking the Bible literally.  Remember our second phrase that we are fact-checking?  “If everything in the Bible is not literally true, the whole thing falls apart.”

What people mean when they say that the Bible is 100% literally true is that it is actually inspired by God.  This is where we would differ with other religions who say that their holy books are also from God.  We believe that only the Bible is divinely inspired.  Therefore the Bible is trustworthy as teaching God’s truth. 

That is not to say that other holy books or movies or songs only and always teach lies.  If a book or song includes the teaching, “Love everyone,” we Christians can affirm that as truth, because it is consistent with the teaching in the Bible.  If another book or movie or song taught something like, “it is okay to hate people who are jerks” then we would disagree with that, because it is not consistent with the teaching in the Bible.  In other words, we believe the Bible is a foundation for truth.

But where this statement gets messy and needs to be fact-checked is when people don’t pay attention to genre.  Let’s look at a very specific example from the Bible to show you what I mean. Take a look at this picture.

How do you feel about this picture?  That the person is attractive?  Beautiful?  Or that it is really weird? 

What you are looking at is a literal artistic rendering of the woman described in the Bible in the book called the Song of Solomon.  This is what you get if the writer is describing this woman literally.  Her neck is a tower.  Her hair is a flock of goats.  Her temples are slices of pomegranate. 

Literalists will say that all Scripture needs to be read on that kind of level.  “Literal,” to them, means that these poets in the Song of Solomon are describing each other exactly as they saw it, with precision, almost scientific precision.

Did the author of Song of Solomon know an actual person like this?  A freaks of nature?  Or should a literal reading the Bible mean something else? Check back in to part 4, as we’ll tackle that question.

The surprising thing God says about sex

19 Sep

Image result for God and our sexual culture

You fill in the blank: “Sex is ________”.

Too often we Christians have responded to our culture in negative, hurtful ways that have led people to conclude that we hate sex, that we think sex is bad.  Our young people have heard so often “don’t have sex”, that many Christians teens are scared of it, and they know very little about how God thinks of it.

I remember as a kid reading the biblical book Song of Solomon and thinking, “Woah, I cannot believe this is in the Bible.”  And yet there it is.  A husband and a wife expressing their sexual desire for one another in colorful language that leaves little to the imagination.  Some of the figures of speech seemed really kooky because in our culture we generally don’t use animals like gazelles to describe one another’s bodies.  But in Song of Solomon, as we read this racy story about marital sexual expression, we get it.  Their longing for one another, their description of one another is very real, very much like our own experience of sexuality.

And yet, it can be kind of embarrassing to read Song of Solomon.  Have you ever heard a sermon about Song of Solomon?  Mostly likely not.  Why?  Because we tend to think of sexual expression as deeply private.

We Americans need to realize, though, that not all cultures think about sexuality quite like we do.  Though we live in a sexualized culture, and that aspect of our culture has become a lot more open, we still are more cautious than many other places around the world.

So we read Song of Solomon and can question whoever decided to put this R-rated book in the Bible.

Why am I bringing this up?

Because the Bible says a lot about sex.  I mean, really.  A lot.

Additionally, we live in a culture very much like the culture in which the New Testament was written. Through most of 2014, I taught through the book of 1st Corinthians.  Paul talks about sex a lot in 1 Corinthians because sexuality was a part of their city.  It was even a part of pagan worship.  The local temple had hundreds of prostitutes, and one element of worship was to pay to sleep with a prostitute.  So when he was writing a letter to people living in a sexualized culture, Paul knew he had to talk about it.  And so do we.

Sexual expression is all over the place.  Commercials, TV shows, and even news programs are cluttered with it.  With the rise of the internet in the last 20 years, the sex industry has exploded.  We are bombarded with messages that say to us that we should express our sexuality however we want.

Unrestricted sexual expression has become commonplace.

I mentioned a favorite show a few weeks ago: Running Wild with Bear Grylls.  He recently had Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn as his guest traipsing through the wilderness.  She told Bear that she was married at 22, called it wrong decision, and got divorced.  Then she dated Tiger Woods, but with crazy schedules, they couldn’t manage a relationship.  Bear asked “What about kids, do you see them in your future?”  She said “Yes, but no more of this marriage stuff.  I don’t want to go through all that.  If you want to be with someone, just be with them.”  That’s pretty normal to hear these days in our culture.

In this post, I’d like to introduce you to the surprising thing God says about sex.  What do you think?  If God were to fill in the blank, just like you did above, what word would he use to describe sex?  Sex is ________.

One college art professor says “Nothing reduces a collegiate art classroom into nervous giggles quite like the sculpture of David by Michelangelo. As an art teacher for 13 years, I have seen reactions to David that have varied from amazement — “Wow! What an amazing work of art!” — to embarrassment and even outright anger — “How dare you show this in class?! He is… well, he is… you know…. Naked!”

She goes on to say that “Culture sends us many messages about the human body, nudity and sex. Unfortunately, these messages can taint our views of sexuality, causing us to feel shame about our bodies and the act of sex. For many, the word “sex” is synonymous with the words “dirty”, “shame,” and “guilt.”  Shame is not from Jesus. God created our bodies, including our sexuality, for good.  Our bodies reflect God’s image, and God created sexuality as a fundamental part of life.”

What that means is that the surprising thing God says about sex is that it is good!  Because God created us as sexual beings with sexual desires, and that means his plan for sex is good!  Here is a key principle: God designed sexuality to be the way a man and woman can become one. I brought this up a few weeks ago when I talked about marriage. In Genesis 2:24 we read “The two shall become one flesh.”  Marriage, then, the proper place for sexual expression, and it is so good.

Because of that, consider the amazing gift of your purity, your virginity.  You get to give that gift one time.  Imagine that you wait and give that to your spouse after you are wedding!  There are few gifts that you give them that are so exquisite at that.  By waiting your are saying “I saved this incredibly precious part of me for you and for you only.”  Isn’t that wonderfully romantic?

This gift is so important because the expression of your sexuality is much more than just a physical act.  The act of sex is also very emotional and relational.  When you make connection of becoming one with another person, the two becoming one flesh, you are connecting much more than physically.  We need to see sex as a deep connection in all these ways.  This is why it is such a powerful gift.  When you give the gift of your sexuality, you are giving your entire self to that person.  It is, therefore, genius of God to reserve sexual expression for marriage, for that one lifelong partner.  Your spouse is only person you are to go that deep with.

As a result, the writers of the NT have a lot to say about purity.  Here are few examples:

1 Cor. 6:12-20 “That is what you were,” Paul says to the Corinthians, “You used to indulge in an openly free sexuality, but no more.”  He goes on to teach that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and so it is to be treated that way.  What you see, what you eat, what you touch, all of it.  Strive for purity.

Eph. 4:17-5:20 is a long passage, but a very good one to read. One comment Paul makes in this passage is that “There should not be a hint of sexual immorality among you.”  Not a hint.  In other words, strive for purity.

But what if you haven’t been pure?  Are you ruined in God’s eyes?

I recently learned of an interview of a woman in 40s who was physically intimate with a number of men in college days.  20 years later in her 40s she was still reliving, with great pain, all the brokenness of those relationships, emotionally and physically.

That is not to say that if you mess up, if you have premarital sex, that you will be in pain for the rest of your life.  God is a God of mercy, grace and forgiveness.  He can restore.  He is a God of making things new.   Many people have experienced the transformation that God has brought to their lives.

You can be restored.  You can say “from this day forward I am practiced God’s way.”  You can be a virgin from that point on.  One of the most amazing verses in the Bible is where he says in Revelation 21:5 that he is making all things new.  In Christ we are made new.  No sin from our past is held against us!

We can be pure, and we can remain pure.  Do pursue ongoing purity, we need to talk about the roots of sexual purity.  If God is in the business of making us new, how do we have purity in our very sensual society?  We may desire purity, but we live in a society that makes purity difficult.  So what do we do about that?

Practicing purity starts in the mind, with our desire.  Jesus notes in Matt 5:27-30 that if you look at a woman lustfully, you have done the same thing as committing adultery with her.  Jesus wants us to take lust seriously.

But when he says “if you look at a woman lustfully, gouge out your eye!” he is speaking in hyperbole.  Or making an argument from the absurd.  What do I mean by hyperbole and absurd?  Let’s look at each one.

Hyperbole is exaggeration.  Jesus didn’t want us to literally gouge out our eyes if we lust, as just about every Christian would then be blind on their first day of being a follower of Jesus.  Instead, one way to understand Jesus’ teaching is that he wants us to take serious action to eradicate lust from our lives.

Then there is the argument from absurdity.  He and everyone else in the crowd listening to him that day knows, obviously, that gouging out your eye, won’t stop you from lust.  In fact, when he said “gouge out your eye,” there may have been laughter in the crowd.  Why?  Removal of your eyes clearly won’t stop lust!  You can still lust in your mind.  Lust is a problem of the inner life.  What really needs to change is your heart.

How, then, do we apply Jesus’ teaching to help us live with purity in a sexualized culture?

Someone has said that you can’t help it if a bird poops on your head.  But you can prevent them from a building a nest there.  Some of you know that you cannot handle certain forms of sexual expression or encounter.  And you may need to get help.  Stop allowing sexualized music, movies, TV shows, books, etc. into your life.

If you are allowing pornography into your life, even in light forms, like looking at pictures of scantily clad people on Google Image search, then you need to take action. Use both the argument from hyperbole and absurdity.  Take action.  Admit what you are doing, first to yourself, that it is wrong and confess to God as well.  Then confess to someone you can trust.  You simply must get the truth out.  Invite accountability, take the initiative to be held accountable.  Put the filtering and accountability software on your computer. And if you addiction is controlling you, seek professional help.  Locally here in the Central PA area, you can contact Day Seven as they specializing in helping get free from sexual addiction.

In addition to taking action to remove sexualized content and encounters from your life, seek to fill your life with pure, wholesome content and encounters.

In Psalm 119:9-11 we read some excellent advice: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…I have hidden your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you.”

One way to do this is to fill your mind with God’s good things.  Read, study and memorize passages from the Bible.  Get an accountability partner to work with you.  Fill your mind with good things, and that is what you will think about.

When considering purity, know this: God’s vision of human sexuality is not to impose rules on us.  God is not saying that if we express our sexuality in a way that is disobedient to him, we have committed an unpardonable sin.  God’s vision of sexuality is with our best interest in mind, and when we don’t live up to that best, know that there is grace, there is hope, and there is new life in Christ.  God is a merciful, forgiving God!  He loves you, and he continues to want what is best for you.