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We all want the same thing.

Sure, we are unique individuals with personal aspirations. And these are important to explore, examine, voice, and properly pursue. But our individual desires are all headed for the same end, or telos. And it’s an overwhelming, ecstatic longing. We all really want eros. The problem is, we don’t understand eros and its power. We don’t understand its sublime and transformational goodness. So we reduce it, pervert it, and try to consume it.  We try to make it manageable to us. We settle for counterfeits.

We have a hard time even acknowledging this want. We struggle to understand it and so we can’t articulate it. We stuff it down and it resurfaces as projections onto more debase faux-wants. How do we express what we really want? And what will people think of us? Yet we have this aching that won’t die. We put false expectations on other people to give us eros. We put burdens on people that they can’t carry. And we reduce them and fracture our relationships.

Women particularly know how we will be judged if we even express this real want out loud. And so it may shock us to read the woman in the Song, speaking for God’s beloved, immodestly bursting out her desire:

Oh, that he would kiss me

with the kisses of his mouth!

For your caresses are

more delightful than wine.

The fragrance of your perfume

is intoxicating;

your name is perfume poured out.

No wonder young women

adore you.

Take me with you—let’s hurry.

Oh that the king would bring me

to his chambers. (Song 1:2-4)

This is what we want. I’m so glad that the bride gives us the words. And yet, just as with eros itself, we still need to make sense of it. You see, it’s so profound that words alone cannot express it. What we want we can’t find in ourselves. It doesn’t come from below, from this world. What we want is other-worldly, supernatural. It involves all our senses, so speech alone cannot express it.[1] God has put eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11), and yet we are finite, created beings. Our experienced reality is merely the backstory to glorification, to the union of heaven and earth, and communion with the triune God and one another—the real reality that our experienced reality fits into. We need eschatological imagination to understand what we want, as it will not be fully consummated until the world to come. This is why poetry, metaphor, allegory, and typology serve us so well. We cannot grasp it all. But we are being prepared as that longing percolates within us, needing clarity of direction. Well, here it is. Let us learn from the bride.

What is Eros?

Before we get to the bride, maybe you are thinking I’m getting off too easy saying that we cannot fully articulate this eros. And I answer, how can I define something I only have gathered from the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table? And yet these crumbs beckoned me to taste them. They far more than nourished me; they sent me into pure delight. They disrupted my whole life, as they are all that matters. But let’s move on from my crumb metaphor, as the Canaanite woman seeking Jesus did. He recognized her great faith, saying, “Let it be done for you as you want” (Matt. 15:28). The healing of her daughter was still the crumbs, really.  This gift was a mere taste of the eros from the table.

I’m using this Greek language, eros, as we receive it even now as much more loaded with desire than if I were to just say love. We want eros love. The Song of Songs is erotic. And it is in the canon of Scripture, God breathed. It’s right in the middle of our Bibles as part of what was known as the wisdom writings. And yet the early church father Origen referred to the Song as the holy of holies of Scripture. So did Gregory of Nyssa. So did a leading sage and tanna (teacher) in the latter first and early second centuries, Rabbi Akiva. How is it that this erotic poem is not only in divinely inspired Scripture, but considered the holiest section of it? Do we ever think of holiness when we think of eros?

Maybe we should. It’s what we really want.

We all want to be truly known.[2] And to belong. And yet that thought also terrifies us because we are covered in webs of shame. We hold this want with a fear of rejection if we are truly known. We don’t think we can belong. The truth is, we don’t even know ourselves the way that we think we do. And we manipulate ourselves as we try to cover our own shame. We are exhausted and out of masks. They’ve lost their adhesive. We want a kind of love that sees us, in our most vulnerable condition—soul-naked—and embraces us. We want a transforming love. Not only that, we want a love that sees us not as projects, but as gift. We want a love that is purifying, washing us clean, and thereby wondering over the beauty of our radiance. It’s a radiance that wears the glory of our Bridegroom. This love does see our unique personhood and beckons it to come forth and fructify.

But how can a union of belonging also free us in our differentiation? How can giving ourselves to another also make us more truly ourselves? How many relationships have we seen—maybe in our own—where the opposite happens? We lose ourselves in another. That’s not eros. That’s the counterfeit.

Eros is pure, holy giving of the self, involving all our senses, for the good of both. It’s full, covenantal participation in union. Eros recognizes the other as gift, and in receiving that union, both give their freedom for the other to live in.[3] This union of lover with the beloved transcends the struggle we have in the need for both freedom and belonging, union and differentiation. As Denys Turner explains, “Within erotic love I am both more me and more than me.”[4]

Can we really get what we really want? Is this an impossible quest that leaves us in total despair? It depends on where we look for it. True eros is a divine love that we covenantally participate in. Therefore, this “more than me” language is true for the created entering into this union, but not for the Bridegroom. He needs nothing but he gives everything. He already has full freedom in belonging, differentiation of persons within oneness of essence as triune God. This is the order of love that is beckoning us. The Bridegroom is the first to love, the first to sacrifice, and the first to give. He does all this because of the love of the Father in giving him the gift of a bride. We are invited to covenantally join in the Father’s love for the Son in the Spirit. This is the holy of holies—the Son came for his bride, is transforming her into his likeness, so that he can usher her behind the veil. In the Song, we get a glimpse of this story of eros playing out. We get a glimpse behind the veil. If you want to know what you really want and get a picture of it that beckons all your senses, read the Song of Songs.

In Part 2, I will get to that glorious verse about the kisses of his mouth and what that means for the church.

[1] “For the church fathers, typology and allegory were identical because they refused to acknowledge history as purely a this-worldly unfolding of historical events, recognizing instead history’s grounding in something other-worldly, a discovery that other speech—allegory.” Hans Boersma, Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew, 35, emphasis original.

[2] See Curt Thompson, Soul of Desire, 22.

[3] See Denys Turner, Eros & Allegory: Medieval Exegesis of the Song of Songs, 58-59.

[4] Turner, Eros, 58.