The Greatest Love Song – Exploring the Mystery of Love in Courtship and Marriage
How often do you read the Song of Songs? A little uncomfortable, is it not? Maybe even embarrassing. Have you heard many sermons on it? I doubt it. It’s hard to preach on such sexually provocative passages! What to make of this most unusual Bible book? Rev. Matthew Van Luik helps us a great deal in his new meditative volume covering this entire Bible book.
In a valuable introductory chapter, VanLuik reviews some unhelpful ways of interpreting the Song of Songs. He goes on to make a clear case for understanding it as a collection of love poems (dealing with a woman and a man) that has been gathered and edited (under the Spirit’s influence) into one whole song.
It has been popular in the past to take this Song as an extended allegory, where the two lovers are a picture of God and his people, ultimately of Christ and his bride, the church. Yet, such an approach does not do justice to the details and nuances of the lovers’ interchanges and simply does not ring true. This book plainly (though poetically) speaks of human love, sexual desire, and the dynamics of a growing bond between a man and a woman from engagement into marriage. VanLuik brings out these dynamics very well.
Courtship through marriage
As VanLuik’s subtitle indicates, he takes the view that the poems are arranged sequentially, touching on the stages of a relationship from courtship to the wedding night to the challenges of living together as husband and wife. The unnamed couple in the poems is not any one historical couple but rather an imaginary pair used by the inspired compiler of the Song to teach believers how God meant such love to be reflected in their lives.
It’s not a straight-forward narrative but rather snap-shots of the progression of their relationship. Having read and reflected on VanLuik’s explanation, I think his approach makes good sense of the text and works out quite well.
Learning about love
In the fifteen chapters following the introduction, Pastor VanLuik works through each poem of the book in turn, bringing out the lessons for believing lovers, whether courting or married. Careful attention is given to application for both men and women, triggered by the specifics of the text.
A key to his interpretation lies in how God created this relationship in the beginning, how it was distorted by our sin (cf. Genesis 1-3), and how God in Christ is restoring this bond of true love (cf. Ephesians 5:21-33). He skillfully and helpfully keeps in view how Christ by his blood and Spirit works to help us overcome our selfish, sinful instincts in order to bring our relationships back in line with God’s original design.
The entire book has very pertinent advice for courting and married couples. VanLuik does not shy away from dealing with the overtly sexual imagery but, while explaining it candidly, he does so with care, maintaining honour for God’s gift of sexuality.
If a mature young couple were to work their way through this book and discuss it together, I would think their relationship could only improve and specifically be more Christ-based in how they relate to one another. Rev. VanLuik’s advice is prompted by the text but also shows much pastoral experience and keen insight into both human nature and the struggle of man/woman relationships.
Additionally, he speaks often and just as wisely about each member of the couple’s relationship with Christ. The picture of marriage in the Song points to and is perfected in the marriage of Christ and his bride. VanLuik uses that analogy quite effectively to point us as men and women to love and serve our spiritual “husband” more fully and faithfully.
One of the pleasant surprises for me was how often (every chapter, more than once usually) VanLuik draws a connection from the passage to our Saviour – not in a rote way but in a genuine manner which gets you thinking about your own personal Christ-likeness. As much as studying this book may bless your marriage, it will just as much bless your individual bond with the Lord.
If I have a critique about the book, it concerns the format and layout, which is a minor matter by comparison. Each chapter helpfully begins by quoting in full the relevant portion of the Song but the quote does not include a reference to which “voices” are speaking, as in the man, woman, or “others” as is common in current Bible translations. That makes it difficult for the reader to discern who is speaking and harder to follow the explanation in the chapter, forcing one to open the Bible anyway.
In addition, paragraphs are overly-lengthy (sometimes a whole page!), subheadings are not bolded and there are too few of them. That all makes for a dense look to each chapter, something which is less than inviting to a casual reader. Also, the lack of capitalization for the proper nouns “Scripture” and “Bible” is both strange and annoying to a Christian reader. Certainly, this book is worth over-looking such irritants, but hopefully a future edition can correct these and similar issues.
Read and reflect
The language and style of writing is easy to understand but because of the subject matter, this book is not a fast read. VanLuik’s work and its wisdom needs to be thoughtfully digested and discussed. I recommend it especially for mature young couples as well as married folk who desire to strengthen their love for each other and for the Lord. Each chapter has a list of helpful questions at the end which would lend itself to discussion as individual couples or for use in some sort of marriage counselling class.
Rev. VanLuik’s volume may also be used as a study guide for a general adult Bible study group but then some of the questions may need to be passed over as too personal for that setting. This book would make an excellent gift to an engaged couple or even to newly-weds. Recommended!
Reviewed by Rev. Peter H. Holtvlüwer
Author: Matthew H. VanLuik
Publishing data: United States: Xulon Press, 2015
Format: Paperback, 208 pages
Republished with permission from Clarion 64:11 (15-June-2015)