Ode to Marriage
“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.” (Song of Solomon. 8:6-7, ESV)
There is a sense in which love is profoundly misjudged. Like an iceberg, its full depth is rarely exposed. The cynic imagines that love is a mere chemical reaction, that the poet is excessive in his hyperbolic adulation of love’s qualities. The rom-com addict and lover of fairy tales narrows love’s core, imagining it lives on forever in the passionate first embrace of lovers united.
I say they are both wrong. Love is fierce and mysterious and, as Solomon’s song declares, “strong as death.” But it diffuses past infatuation. In its purest state, it compels one to feel deeply about; give sacrificially to; pursue the good of; and even die for the beloved.
Love is wild and magnificent. Shakespeare stretched to capture its brilliance in his words. Every sappy love song attempts an echo of its radiance. It defies the cynic, surpasses in depth the hopeless romantic, and retains its invitation of glory despite the boredom of the many who have forgotten its magnificence.
The magnificence of love makes it deserving of an equally magnificent embrace, a permanent context within which to exist. Apart from the permanency of promise, it cannot mature and blossom, and we cannot discover its hidden textures and riches. As a kite cannot soar except it be tethered, so love requires this bond to flourish.
Which is what makes marriage so beautiful. A man and woman in love is a sight to behold. But this love calls for solemn covenant which might give it shape. It needs room to bloom in a permanent union. And this is right. For to give this love any less permanency is to insult love’s quality.
At the end of the day, love is not a force that originates from within. The purest love one finds within exists only as a reflection of love received. Like the moon, a soul radiates love only because love was spoken into the fabric of creation at the beginning of time. Because love has sustained it ever since. It was woven into our souls. And, of course, it burst into this world with the most breathtaking display.
The apostle Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” (Eph. 5:25, ESV) Nice words for marriage counseling, to be sure. But Paul is not just after a moral example. He is directing us to the source.
If love is affectionately seeking the good of another, God has loved like none other. He has lavished love in purest form, such that the apostle John can say so simply, “God is love.”
For you see, in directing the husband’s eyes to Christ’s love for the church, the apostle tells him much more than “be like Jesus.” He presents afresh the covenant relationship which God forged at great cost to Himself. God the Son was made to bear our sin, our failures, our death, so that we could be right with God, we could walk with Him, we could live.
And when we but stretch out and receive His gracious hand, He welcomes us into His permanent promise forever.
We need not even say, “’till death do us part,” because His love has guaranteed that death cannot part us. The love of Christ surpasses that of Solomon’s song, for His love is not merely as “strong as death;” His love treads death underfoot.
The jewel of love divine, fit in the setting of permanent covenant. Covenant which will never end, never die.
Let us not, then, insult that affection between a man and woman by refusing love its resting place, its throne. Let us give love its due, crowning it in the permanent context worthy of its glory.