Looking for the absent God

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The early Christians and later patristic writers read the Old Testament with a view to Christ. They saw his shadow in the law, the prophets, and the writings like Psalms. They also saw him in the Song of Solomon, seeing in the Hebrew love poem a picture of Christ and the church.

The Old Testament prophets used marital imagery to describe the relationship between God and Israel, and Paul absorbed that metaphor, that mystery, into his understanding of Christ and the church. So it’s no surprise that preachers and theologians attuned to finding Christ in the Old Testament would see him in the Song of Songs, too.

Modern interpretation often frowns on this view. It wants to see the Song primarily in its original context, as a love poem. But I think there are some real benefits in going back to the patristic interpretation, not only for the rich theological possibilities but also for pastoral benefits.

How many of us have had periods where God has felt distant, where we felt alone? In those moments we desperately want God, but he’s nowhere to be found. He’s absent. We could be made to feel wrong for thinking such things, for feeling such things, but Scripture doesn’t do that. Scripture identifies with the pain and gives it expression.

Upon my bed at night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer (Song 3.1).

If we see Christ in Solomon, the lover, and ourselves in the Shulammite woman, the bride, we secure validation and identification for those feelings of abandonment. Others have felt it too. If we see the Shulammite as a picture of the church, we can see that this is a common experience of all believers. We sometimes seek God and cannot find him. We call and get no answer. The Scripture is saying, “It’s okay, it’s part of the experience.”

And it can be heartbreaking.

I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
The watchman found me,
as they went about the city;
they beat me, they wounded me . . . (5.6-7).

The struggle through these moments is a real and important dimension of true Christian spirituality. How else do we explain David’s cries in the Psalms? What the Song is saying is that there is support and understanding in the moments of crisis and doubt. And the Song goes further and says that Christ will come. God will not always be distant. The groom will return, as Solomon did, as Christ always does.

There’s no use denying the experience of pain and distance when it comes. Scripture doesn’t deny it. Sometimes we experience dry spells that last for years. But through the Song of Solomon God says, “Continue to look. Continue to wait. I am coming.”

Do you look to the Song or the Psalms for help in such moments?

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  • http://blessingmpofu.com blessing mpofu

    Psalms. I did consider songsvof solomom as you’ve put it beore but have related to the psalms better. perhaps boils down to poetic preference?thanks for sharing joel!

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      I’ve written a fair amount on the Psalms as well. Have a look here.

  • http://blessingmpofu.com blessing mpofu

    Psalms. I did consider songsvof solomom as you’ve put it beore but have related to the psalms better. perhaps boils down to poetic preference?thanks for sharing joel!

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      I’ve written a fair amount on the Psalms as well. Have a look here.