Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Not feeling it

One of the most helpful things, for me, in preaching through the Song of Songs is the corrective it gives to some of our undue stress on objectivity over subjectivity, and thinking over feeling.  This is probably, once again, one of those pendulum things - we've reacted to something unhelpful, and swung way too far in the opposite direction.

Let me give an example.  How might we respond to someone who doesn't feel like they are forgiven?  Or doesn't have any sense of Christ's love for them?  Because we're the truth people, we'd probably push in the direction of the objective.  Whether you feel forgiven doesn't change the objective truth that if you are trusting in Christ you are forgiven.  Whether you sense the love of Christ or not has no bearing on the objective truth that he does love you.  This objectivity is grounded in God's revelation, and supremely in the cross and resurrection of Christ.  It's true, regardless of feelings or experience.

That's not the wrong response.  It's half the right response.

It is impossible to read the Song without picking up on the delight and desire which stand at its heart.  That Christ is delightful, and that his people desire him; that remarkably - astonishingly, to the human mind and heart illogically and almost unbelievably - Christ also delights in his people and desires them.  This delight and desire play out in different moods through the Song.  There is pleasant desire, full of anticipation, and there is satiated delight; but there is also painful desire, responding to the absence of the lover, there is delight which is also almost agony because it is delight in the distant lover.  We do well not to flatten this out, or strip it down to make it fit into a theological scheme.  The Christian who has no sense of Christ's love ought not to settle for a bare assertion of objectivity, anymore than the woman in the Song should settle for the fact that she is objectively loved.  Feeling matters.  Reality matters as well as truth.

It seems to me that older Christian writers got this (and I should say at this point what a joy it was to read Julian Hardyman's book Jesus Lover of My Soul when prepping for the Song, which has the same sort of emphasis to it).  They encourage us to pursue Christ, not to be satisfied with a head-knowledge of the truth but to chase after...  After what?  An experience?  Yes, I think so.  And I think that matters because these older authors (and Julian, and I'm sure others) see clearly that the objective truth by itself won't transform us to live joyfully for Christ.  How can I love Christ wholeheartedly, passionately, if I have no sense of his great love for me?  How can I act like someone who is forgiven if I don't have an experience of my conscience being cleansed?

Delight in Christ - the subjective, emotional, experiential sense of his goodness and beauty - is the engine which drives sanctification.  And that is more than just objectivity.


  1. Amen! So helpfully put - thank you Daniel.