The Song of Songs

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I’ll start with the conclusion. Contrary to all expectation, and despite its appearance as something that doesn’t fit with the rest of Scripture, the Song of Songs is in the Old Testament as the key to reading the entire Old Testament—and by extension, for Christians, the entire Bible.

The Song of Songs is, I believe, an intentional allegory. That is to say, the literal meaning is the allegory; it is not an independent love story upon which an allegorical meaning has been laid. The arguments for this are made by, e.g., Robert Jenson in his commentary on the book (Westminster/John Knox; short and affordable) and by Edmee Kingsmill in her remarkably readable scholarly study, The Song of Songs and the Eros of God (Oxford; unfortunately, quite expensive).

The message of the book is thus that God is in love with us, that he has chosen us and desires us. That message does indeed run through the Bible, and once you grasp the point, you will start to see it everywhere.

I am writing these words on the morning of November 28. In this morning’s Psalms (I use the old 30-day calendar, so they are Psalms 132–135), I noticed this: “For the LORD hath chosen Sion to be an habitation for himself; he hath longed for her” (Ps. 132:14). The words leapt off the page; I must have read them a hundred times before, and not noticed. First is God’s choice, a choice for which there is no reason! God just has chosen Israel to love her (and Zion to be the place where he dwells in order to love her), and he has chosen us in Christ Jesus to love us as well, not because we are good or worthy, and not for any other reason. God’s choice is just his choice; there is nothing behind it. 

And second, the verse goes on to say: “he hath longed for her”! God longs for us—as the groom longs for his bride, as it is set forth with aching beauty in the Song of Songs.

As we enter this season of waiting, may we experience it as a season of longing. Our hearts and souls and bodies yearn for God as for nothing else. And the great mystery at the heart of the universe is this: God also is yearning for us.


Out & about. I am teaching a course on the Song of Songs this Advent at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas. The class is on Sundays at 10:20 in the Memorial Chapel. I always find the “live” class to be the best experience, but if you can’t be with me, you can listen to the class when it is posted on this page:  


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First I’ll clear my throat. This new film has flaws, perhaps especially in the use of shallow stereotypes for minor characters. Nonetheless, it is magnificent and wondrous. This theologian believes it is worth wide viewing, followed by pondering and thanks to God for a changing cultural moment.

The “arrival” of the title occurs when twelve alien objects land, or hover, at twelve places on Earth. To the one in Minnesota goes a linguist who gets to communicate with them. She discovers that their language is non-temporal: it is written in circles where the beginning and the end of the thought are simultaneously present.

And so we have, in a film without explicit theological referent, an exploration of what it means to see time all at once, which is (I think) the same as the question of how does God (who is not subject to time) see his creatures (who are). The film doesn’t do the nonsensical: it doesn’t suppose that it is possible to travel backwards in time. But it does set before us the possibility of seeing time all as a whole.

I recently was asked by a young person who is considering marriage, whether I would do it all over again, if I knew at the beginning that my wife would get brain cancer and ultimately die. It was a great question, and posed with existential interest. “Of course I would!” blurted forth from my mouth.

When we see life as a whole, which is to say when we see the beginning and the end all together, we can see the gift that it is, and give thanks for it all. The evils of this existence are wrapped up and surrounded by the luminous mystery of the one who died and then rose.

In addition, this theological ethicist wants to celebrate a small point in the film “Arrival.” Although there is no sex scene in the film, there is some sexual tension. And at one point, as a couple is embracing, the question is whispered: “Do you want to make a baby?” For too long our culture has encouraged an understanding of sex that is divorced from having children. Kudos to the makers of “Arrival” for showing the sexiness (and the wonder) of bringing sex and procreation together.


Out & about. I will be teaching a four-week class on “The Song of Songs” on the Sundays in Advent, beginning November 27. The sessions are at 10:15 a.m. at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas.


The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: