Song of Songs is a beautiful book that millions of Christians, both single and married, have read and studied with great profit. However, for some – and in particular those not currently in a relationship – it can be difficult.
In any church family there will be folk who are single – those who have never been married and those who have been married and are now single. Due to a breakdown in relationship, divorce, death of a spouse, a struggle against same-sex attraction, or other reason, Song of Songs may push some unhappy buttons.
Many are very aware of their singlehood – it is a present reality, not always a wanted reality, at times a difficult reality, and for many may also be the future reality. And for some, speaking about relationships raises hurts, memories, or experiences which are not pleasant nor comfortable. Song of Songs may even be difficult to hear for some who are married.
Song of Songs is a book not only for those who are in a relationship. Regardless of whether we are single or married, we should embrace rather than dismiss it. It is a book meant by God for people (regardless of circumstance) to learn from and to take joy in – even though that joy may look more complex for some than for others.
All scripture is useful in some way, and it is dangerous to be selective of scripture such that we only listen to texts that say what we want to hear (c.f. 2 Tim 3:16 and 4:3-4). That means at times scripture will say things that are in fact difficult to hear. That will be Songs of Songs for many.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because scripture (such as Song of Songs) upholds the value of a marriage relationship, that it is also in turn speaks against the value of singlehood.
That said, it is right and proper to uphold, value, honour and care for those who are single.
Scattered throughout Scripture there are people who either by choice or life circumstance spent extended time in a state of singleness. In the Old Testament consider Dinah (Gen 34), Joseph (Gen 37:2 c.f. Gen 41:46-52), Miriam (Num 12), Naomi (Ruth 1-4), Nehemiah and Jeremiah. In the New Testament there is Anna (Lk 2:36-37), John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostle Paul.
Both Jesus and Paul uphold singleness. Jesus, in Matthew 19, acknowledges that in some situations it is ‘better not to marry’. His example (more appropriate to that time) are those who are eunuchs – some born that way, some made that way, and others choose that way. His conclusion is that if this way of life could be accepted, then it should be (19:10-12).
Paul is pretty blunt – ‘it is good for a man not to marry’ (1 Cor 7:1) and ‘to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do’ (7:8). He also outlines that those who do get married ‘will face many troubles in this life’ (7:28). For all that could be said from Paul, it is clear that he was pretty sympathetic to the single person.
That does not of course remove the burden or loss that one might feel. Being single will mean certain personal fulfilments can not be met. There will be temptation including sexual temptations that will be a battle. There will be degrees of loneliness that are often highlighted whenever marriage or relationships are discussed (or preached about from Song of Songs).
Friends, if you are single, please hear that you are loved and cherished. If you are married, please hear that you are loved and cherished. If you are same-sex attracted, please hear that you are loved and cherished. Christians and church families should consistently be expressing that, and at times it will be expressed well and at other times, badly. Our Lord, will always express that and he will always do that in the way that is best for you. The marriage relationship is not the only way for a person to belong – it is only an expression and a flawed one at that. The gospel relationship however is the only perfect way for a person to belong – and it is the goal of the one who created all people for relationships – eternally.
Value the many in our church families who will find talking about marriage and sex and relationships difficult. Allow one another to carry each others burdens. Listen well. Be open. Give opportunity for those who know singleness best to express how they feel. And pray, that in studying scripture, even the hard parts, that everyone will look back and be really glad that we tackled it together.