What it looks like to be sick with love is modeled for us in Song of Solomon. This strikingly erotic biblical book chronicles the romantic love relationship between King Solomon and a woman, who serves as the primary speaker of the book.1 Like any good love story, the book has its ups and downs. There are beautiful moments of presence and painful moments of absence.
For thousands of years this book has been understood in a variety of ways, but one of its chief understandings has been as an allegory of the relationship between humans and God. God can be present and absent to us in a variety of different ways, and there may be no better place in our Bible to delve more deeply into this than the Song of Solomon.
In this book we do not have straightforward theology but a love story. We do not have catechisms but caresses. We do not have dogma but devotion. What better place could there be to help us understand the rapturous elation caused by presence and the deep pain inflicted by absence than in the subtleties of a love story?
The story begins with a proclamation of love. The woman confesses her love for Solomon, and Solomon confesses his love for her.2 The king throws a party for his beloved in his banquet hall.3 The festivities and adoration she receives from the king cause a confusing emotion to arise within her. She begins to feel overcome by love to the point of exhaustion, weakness, and illness.
Sustain me with raisins, she says, refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. — Song of Solomon 2:5
The woman Solomon loves is so consumed by affection that she is ill with it. Her fondness is making her faint. The king’s nearness is making her knees weak. A blissful disease has taken her body, and the only cure is deeper intimacy with the king. It may not have been this type of rapturous love that drove my wife to run to the café restroom that morning, but I like to think it was.
Presence creates a pain that only more presence can heal.
An encounter with God’s general or relational presence leaves deep imprints on our souls, like a footprint on a trail, and we spend our lives trying to find the foot it goes with. The tracks of God leave their mark on us. That indentation on the soft ground of our hearts leaves an empty space in its wake. Presence leaves a deeper impression than it fills. The trace of what we have encountered makes us ache to find that which has passed us by.
If you have ever been in love, you already know what this feels like. To be in the presence of the one you love, while still wanting to be more present than the situation allows. You can be hanging out with someone you have a crush on, but still want to have a closer dating relationship with this person. You can be on a date with your boyfriend or girlfriend, but still want to share a deeper commitment. You can be engaged, but still long for your wedding day. You can be married, but still desire to draw closer and closer to your husband or wife.
You can be in God’s presence here on this earth, but still find yourself sick with the desire to stand before Him face-to-face. God’s presence can make us sick with love.
You may feel as if you have been searching after God for a long time. Perhaps you have just begun to think about what it means to seek God out. Whether you are far down your journey’s path or standing at its threshold wondering if you should begin, I want you to know that the tracks of God put each of us on a lifelong search.
If you are feeling faint and tired in your pursuit of God, remember that you may just be sick with love. The closer you get to your goal, the more desirous it will become. Like Solomon’s lover sitting in his banquet hall, you are so near to God that you are sick with it.
On the other hand, if you feel as if the search for God is more than you can bear, I want you to realize that it is far better to be sick in love than healthy in hate. Searching after God is the most fulfilling endeavor you could ever begin. Keep looking for God, search through the sickness, and know that it is God’s ever-increasing nearness that puts us in such a fever.
I sought him, but found him not
I can’t stand it when I’m frantically looking for something that ends up being right next to me. Like when I’m running around the house looking for my keys, turning over every couch cushion, just to realize that the keys were hooked to my belt loop the whole time. Or when I’m standing in an aisle of the grocery store and I ask the clerk where I might find the condiments, only to look behind me and see a wall of Heinz staring back. That is almost the impression we get at the first major moment of absence recorded in the Song of Solomon.
After the sublime banquet and her lovesickness, the woman awakens in her bed, thinking that Solomon will be lying next to her. But the king is not where she left him. Her beloved is not where he had been before. The one her heart loves is not where she expects him to be. So before even getting out of bed to see if Solomon might be using the restroom, the woman exclaims, “I sought him, but found him not” (Song of Solomon 3:1).
It is almost comical how quickly the beloved woman of Solomon exclaims that the king cannot be found. She has only just waked, she is still in bed, and she has already come to two conclusions: (1) she has been on a search and (2) the king cannot be found. She looked in the first and only place she thought Solomon would be, right next to her, and upon discovering his absence, she concludes that her search has been sufficient and her results are conclusive.
Maybe you feel like God is absent. You’ve looked for Him in the places where you thought He would be, but you’ve come up empty. You may have given up your search for God too soon. I can promise you this: you have not looked for God in every place in which He may be found.
There are beds of scriptures you have not yet pulled back the sheets on. There are doors of prayers you haven’t yet opened. You need not exclaim God’s absence after a Sunday slump. You don’t have to throw up your hands in frustration after a quick season of unanswered prayer.
We must neither be too hasty in our declaration that God is absent, nor too quick to abandon the search for our absent God. If you are going through a dry spell in your relationship with God, do not be so quick to abandon your search for Him. If you feel like your search has gone on far too long, do not be so quick to judge that you have looked for Him in every place but your own bed.
- There are seemingly innumerable interpretations of Song of Solomon, who its characters represented, and what exactly was happening within each part of the book. I am taking what I find to be the most straightforward and literal interpretation of the text. Regardless of your interpretation of Song of Solomon, I hope you can find truth in my treatment of it.
- Song of Solomon 1:15-16.
- Song of Solomon 2:4.
Excerpted with permission from When God Isn’t There by David Bowden, copyright David Bowden.
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Does God seem absent? Where are you looking for Him? Your story with God is a love story! Come share your thoughts on searching for more with Jesus on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily