Is Your Heart Headed in a Good Direction?

Everything that comprises our life as persons–our thoughts, attitudes, feelings, our impulses and desires, our speech and actions–all spring from the heart. In short, our heart is the director of our life.

Proverbs 4:23 . . . is one of the most significant texts of Scripture for understanding life: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.” In other versions of this verse the heart is said to be the place from which “everything you do flows” (NIV); the “source of all life” (NEB); “where life starts” (MSG). Literally, the Hebrew text says: “Above all guarding, keep watch over your heart. For out of it are the issues of life” (emphasis added).

Identifying the heart as the sour of “the issues of life” is not simply saying the heart is the fountain or primal source of life. It also says that the heart controls the course of life. The same Hebrew word for “issues” is used in other places to describe the boundaries of a territory. It delineates the point where the boundary begins and the course the boundary follows from there–in other words, it begins here and goes from here to there and to there and so forth.

What God tells us in Proverbs 4:23, then, is our life not only has “its fountain in the heart, but also the direction which it takes is determined by the heart.” In other words, our heart is not only the spring from which our life flows, it also directs the stream of our life in all of its bends and turns (note the plural “issues”) as it continues to flow. In sum, the heart is the spring and director of all our living.

The heart’s control of our life is a constant theme of Scripture. “A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left,” declared the preacher of Ecclesiastes (10:2). Our obedience or disobedience toward God is determined by the condition of our heart: “If your heart turns away and you will not obey” (Deut. 30:17). The people of Jeremiah’s day rebelled in apostasy because they “walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart” (Jer. 11:8; cf. 7:24; 24:16; 16:12; 18:12; 23:17). The lie of Ananias and Sapphira was spawned in their heart as Peter’s question indicates: “Why is it that you have conceived [lit. set, placed] this deed in your heart” (Acts 5:4).

No one taught that the heart is the source of life more plainly than Jesus. In response to those who were accusing him of casting out demons by the power of the Devil, he said “How can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil” (Matt. 12:34-35).

The implications of his teaching are clear: good words and good behavior do not spring from mere resolutions–“I will be good”–but from our being. Evil things come from evil persons. Good things come from good persons. What defines a person’s character and the activities of his life is the content of the storehouse of his heart where he has treasured up either evil or good.

As Jesus’ words attest, our speech is the primary way that we reveal who we are, and that revelation can sometimes be surprising. . . . As F. Dale Brunner points out . . . “Speech . . . is the overflow of our being; it is the main way that we express what we ‘are’; it is the major fruit of our personhood; speech is the self ex-pressed out (‘pressed out’).

We try, though not always successfully, to intercept the heart’s expression, tweaking it with what is more appropriate for a good appearance and reputation. But even these modifications stem from our mixed heart. We seek to hide what is in our heart, and to some extent are able to succeed in not exposing all of its contents. But as we’ve already seen, the issues of life flow out of the heart. In one form or another, the contents of our heart inevitably make their presence known in the experiences of our life.

The heart, therefore, has rightly been described as “the mission control center” of human life. Our thoughts, motives, the words that we speak, our feelings and attitudes, and all of our actions originate from our heart. In the words of Herman Ridderbos, “Man is led and governed ultimately from one point–the heart.” For this reason, God calls us through the teacher of Proverbs: “Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways” (Prov. 23:26). To give our heart to God is to give him control over all of our lives.

Robert Saucy, Minding the Heart: The Way of Spiritual Transformation, 42-45.

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Have We Been Reading Romans 8:28 Correctly?

One of the most beloved and oft-quoted verses for encouragement and hope in troubled times is Romans 8:28. You likely know it: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I find it encouraging to know that the sovereign God works to orchestrate all of life for our ultimate good. This is a wonderful and amazing truth! But in subtle ways, this verse can be hijacked by our consumeristic, narcissitic understanding of life with God. It can be turned from an assurance of God’s loving care in the midst of pain and difficulties into a promise that God will make everything feel good for us at all times, that he is promising  to make us comfortable, satisfied, and prosperous. Some take this verse to mean our comfort is the supreme objective, the highest good in God’s purposes on earth. This misunderstanding is the complete opposite of what the verse means, and it doesn’t match the call to carry our cross and endure suffering and persecution for the sake of Christ.

Several years ago, I noticed a small raised letter after the word who in that verse. The text note in the NIV alerted readers to another possible rendering of the original Greek text: “And we know that in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good.”

You may want to read that again.

This alternate reading brings a nuance that eliminates the option of defining our “good” to fit our own desires. Instead, we hear with fresh clarity the real message of this passage–that at all times, in all things, we can have confidence that God is working to bring about what is good. God works with us to do this good. Romans 8:28 is not a passive reassurance of God’s care; it is a call to action–to engagement and participation in the work that God is doing.

What kinds of people are likely to be used of God, to work with God, in bringing about this good? Who is best able to notice and respond to the activity of God? Who is poised to respond to the world’s needs in a way of deep goodness? It’s people who are on the journey of transformation. They have been prepared and equipped for the selfless sacrifice needed to bring God’s goodness into everyday circumstances.

How might God want to work with you to bring about what is good? And how might he work through an entire community to bring about what is good? Jesus has been clear that this redemption, this restoration, is the purpose of his earthly ministry, which continues now through his body–the church.

Mindy Caliguire, STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships, 153-55.

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What is God’s “Glory”?

So much of Christian faith and practice hinges on the concept of the glory of God. But what is that?

The theology books struggle when they try to define it. I believe it is because the glory of God is actually the combined attitude of all God’s attributes and qualities put together. The glory of God means what can be called his infinite beyondness. He is not a “tame” God, a God at hand. He is not someone you can always figure out, or expect to figure out. This is a God beyond our comprehension, and it is one of the aspects of the biblical God than modern people dislike the most. We are always saying, “I can’t believe in a God who would do this” or “I can’t believe in a God who would judge people.” One of the things that may mean is that we don’t want a glorious God, one beyond our comprehension.

The glory of God also means his supreme importance.  The Hebrew word for “glory is kabod which means “weight”–literally God’s weightiness. Fortunately, we have an English word that has the same lexical range and that functions in the same way–it is the word matter. Matter means “as opposed to the immaterial, something solid, something substantial,” but it can also mean “importance.” And therefore when the Bible says that God is looking glorious, it means that he should matter, and does matter, more than anything else, or anyone else. And if anything matters to you more than God, you are not acknowledging his glory. You are giving glory to something else.

It is one thing to love somebody and get a lot of joy out of that relationship. But if that person breaks up with you and you want to kill yourself, it means that you have given that person too much glory, too much weight in your life. You may have said in your heart, “If that person loves me, then I know that I am somebody.” But if that person then takes the relationship away, you collapse and melt down because you have ascribed more glory and honor to him or her than to God. If anything matters more to you than God you are placing yourself and your heart into something external. Only if you make God matter the most–which means only if you glorify him and give him the glory–will you have a safe life.

There is one more thing to say about God’s glory–it is his absolute splendor and beauty. The word for “glory” in the Old Testament means importance, the word for “glory” in the New Testament (the Greek word doxa) means “praise and wonder; luminosity, brilliance, or beauty.”

Jonathan Edwards once said: “God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by it being rejoiced in.” It is not enough to say, “I guess he is God, so I have to knuckle under.” You have to see his beauty. Glorifying God does not mean obeying him only because you have to. It means to obey him because you want to–because you are attracted to him, because you delight in him. This is what C.S. Lewis grasped and explained so well in his chapter on praising. We need beauty. We go to lengths to put ourselves in front of beautiful places, or surround ourselves with beautiful music, or hang out with beautiful people. But these will leave us empty if we don’t learn to see all of these things as mere tributaries and God himself as the fountain, the headwaters of it all.

So to see God as glorious is not only to admit his incomprehensibility and beyondness, and make him the thing that matters the most, but it is also to work your heart so it finds him the most pleasurable and beautiful thing you know.

Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering,168-170.

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Is Your Soul in a “Desert” Place”?

The hardest part of being in the desert is that there is no way out. You don’t know when it will end. There is no relief in sight.

A desert can be almost anything. It can be a child who has gone astray, a difficult boss, or even your own sin or foolishness. Maybe your married your desert.

God customizes deserts for each of us. Joseph’s desert is being betrayed and forgive in an Egyptian jail. Moses lives in the Midian desert as an outcast for forty years. The Israelites live in the desert for forty years. David runs from Saul in the desert. All of them hold on to the hope of God’s Word yet face the reality of their situations.

The theme of the desert is so strong in Scripture that Jesus reenacts the desert journey at the beginning of his ministry by fasting for forty days in a desert while facing Satan’s temptation. His desert is living with the hope of the resurrection yet facing the reality of his Father’s face turned against him at the cross.

The father turning his face against you is the heart of the desert experience. Life has ended. It no longer has any point. You might not want to commit suicide, but death would be a relief. It is very tempting to survive the desert by taking the bread of bitterness offered by Satan–to maintain a wry, cynical detachment from life, finding a perverse enjoyment in mocking those who still have hope.

God takes every one he loves through a desert. It is his cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden. Here’s how it works.

The first thing that happens is that we slowly give up the fight. Our wills are broken by the reality of our circumstances. The things that brought us life gradually die. Our idols die for lack of food.

The still, dry air of the desert brings the sense of helplessness that is so crucial to the spirit of prayer. You come face-to-face with your inability to live, to have joy, to do anything of lasting worth. Life is crushing you.

Suffering burns away the false selves created by cynicism or pride or lust. You stop caring about what people think of you. The desert is God’s best hope for the creation of an authentic self.

Desert life sanctifies you. You have no idea you are changing. You simply notice after you’ve been in the desert awhile that you are different. The things that used to be important no longer matter.

After a while you notice your real thirsts. While in the desert David writes,

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Ps. 63:1).

The desert becomes a window to the heart of God. He finally gets your attention because he’s the only game in town.

You cry out to God so long and so often that a channel begins to open up between you and God. When driving, you turn off the radio just to be with God. At night you drift in and out of prayer when you are sleeping. Without realizing it, you have learned to pray continuously. The clear, fresh water of God’s presence that you discover in the desert becomes a well inside your own heart.

The best gift of the desert is God’s presence. We see this in Psalm 23. In the beginning of the psalm, the Shepherd is in front of me–“he leads me beside still waters” (verse 2); at the end he is behind me–“goodness and love will pursue me” (verse 6, NIV); but in the middle, as I go through “the valley of the shadow of death,” he is next to me–“I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (verse 4). The protective love of the Shepherd gives me the courage to face the interior journey.

When we don’t receive what we pray for or desire, it doesn’t mean that God isn’t working on our behalf. Rather, he is weaving his story. Paul tells us to “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). Thanksgiving helps us to be grace-centered, seeing all of life as a gift. It looks at how God’s past blessings impact our lives. Watchfulness alerts us to the unfolding drama in the present. It looks for God’s present working as it unfolds into future grace.

Watch for the story God is weaving in your life. Don’t leave the desert. Corrie ten Boom’s father often reminded her, “The best is yet to come.”

Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World, 184-187.

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The Requirements for Spiritual Growth in Your Church

  1. The pastor must take the lead. Life produces life. You cannot give what you do not have. You don’t delegate the formation of souls to another; it is a burden of all the staff–chiefly the senior leadership.
  2. Discipleship must never be limited to just a decision, but rather it requires a liftime of practice. We are constantly thinking of ways to get people focused on the journey as the destination.
  3. Scripture must be applied to people’s lives. The Word is power. We try to always teach for change. Give the people something to do or to be in response to truth.
  4. We must remember that the process of discipleship is unlike what most of what pastors do in today’s church world. It’s not clean–like a building project that has a start and completion date.Spiritual growth is never so easily defined.
  5. Transformation of souls must affect every area of the church. It’s not just a class or department. It’s not just for new believers or those who seem to be really struggling with sin. It’s for everyone. In light of that, leaders must have a deep conviction that everyone’s formation is still in process.
  6. Spiritual practices must be regularly taught, explained, shared in testimonies, and held up as habits of healthy, vibrant believers. We work to incorporate a wide variety of practices within our services.
  7. We must set the expectation right away with new attendees. The goal of the church is disciple making. And so we have to change the scoreboard for success.
  8. As the church grows larger, we must constantly look for smaller, deeper relationship settings. Many times, these settings will appear simple, organic . . . and disorganized.

Rick Gannon as cited by Mindy Caliguire, STIR: Spiritual Transformation in Relationships,150-51.

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Do You Have Sufficient Self-Awareness?

Whether we have an actual spiritual director or not, we need others as a check and balance in our spiritual journey. This is so for a number of reasons. We each have a capacity for self-deception, for rationalizing our behavior, even for self-destructive behavior. We need others who love and accept us but who are able to speak graciously and without flattery regarding the specifics of our lives.

We are so easily crushed by criticism, and we are so inclined to have inflated heads when we receive some measure of praise. The friend, or spiritual director, comes alongside to help us moderate what is happening to us emotionally, precisely so that we take criticism for what it is–a potential for growth and learning–and take affirmation for no more than it is–a helpful marker along the way. We don’t let either go to our head. Few things are so insidious to the spiritual life as pride. It is very nearly impossible to navigate the rough and tumble of the spiritual life without another, who comes alongside, to keep us humble. And one sign of this humility is that we are not crushed by criticism or flattered by praise. It is very nearly impossible, if not actually impossible, to get a good read on ourselves–to take a sober look at ourselves (Rom. 12:3)–without an external guide, be that a good friend or a spiritual director, who will keep us from overstating our weaknesses or being overly self-impressed with our capacities. The other helps us actually see our weaknesses and potential vulnerabilities that could come to haunt us in a time of stress or difficulty. Also, when we are trying to make sense of a significant experience, particularly one that leaves an emotional wake–whether it be a difficult experience that leaves us in anger or discouragement, or a more positive one where something went very well and we received affirmation and praise–we need another to help us make sense of what is happening to us. This can certainly come through good friends. But the ministry of spiritual direction formalizes this input and assures us that it will happen. Indeed, I would in the end suggest that we need both–both the very best of friendship and wise, informed spiritual direction.

We are deeply emotional creatures–all of us. And emotions are powerful sources, for good and ill. Deep sorrow, while surely appropriate in response to loss, can so easily discombobulate us. Anger, in the face of grave wrong, so easily leads to bitterness. Discouragement and disappointment, left unchecked, can so easily result in cynicism. And fear, so easily rationalized as a “concern” for another, can overcome our capacity to think and respond courageously to a challenge we are facing. The huge gift of the other who walks alongside us in our faith journey, is that of responding graciously to our circumstances with apt words and, as needed, gentle correction. Effective spiritual direction fosters emotional self-awareness, including the freedom to acknowledge and and name our anger, our fear and our discouragement. But then also, an effective director does not allow us to stay there, mired in our anger and sorrow. We can so easily feel overcome by guilt, fear, sorrow and darkness; we need the other to point out the light and signs of God’s goodness and presence in the midst of this darkness when we are so easily blinded by our own emotions.

In addition, we all need encouragement. In our lives and work and relationships we are so easily discouraged and disheartened. A wise spiritual director is able to see the subtle ways in which we need to be encouraged and renewed in hope. And their insight is to speak an apt word–not so much “let me encourage you,” but the appropriate word for this person at this time in the face of this disheartening situation.

The “other” in our life is essential to our capacity to know Christ and to respond to Christ with patience and courage. Part of the great genius of the Christian understanding of religious experience is found in this remarkable counterpoint: we are individuals before God, but we are not alone in this encounter with God. We need one another to live with vitality and strength and hope. The Christian life is not self-sustainable.

Gordon T. Smith, Spiritual Direction: A Guide to Giving and Receiving Direction, 32.

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What You Need to Know About Shame – Part 2

When toxic ruptures are not repaired, the residue of shame that repeatedly coats the child’s mind influences virtually all of his or her responses to life’s circumstances. From a neuroscience perspective, the prefrontal cortex of such a person tends to be less integrated, and the mind’s dominant neural pattern involves those networks most closely associated with the feelings and behaviors related to shame. These networks are often activated by the slightest stimulus, whether a glance, a tone, or even a misunderstanding.

When we are in the grip of shame, we have a keen sense of painful isolation. We feel separated, not only from others, but disconnected within ourselves. As our multiple mental processes–attention, memory, emotion, bodily sensation, and linear, logical cognitive thought constructs–become fragmented and disoriented in the whirlpool of shame, we find it impossible to sense with coherence what we or the other person is feeling. This disconnection within ourselves will, in scope and range, extend to our relationships with other people, becoming a destructive force within our communities, whether they be families, churches, schools, neighborhoods, or nations. Although shame is primarily about me, it invariably involves others by virtue of creating greater distance between us. Any shaming behavior on one person’s part can activate underlying shame elements in others unless they are mindful enough to resist that process.

The apostle Paul knew the power of and place of shame:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:20-21, ITALICS MINE).

One measure of the abundance of his life was the degree to which he was liberated from his experience of shame. And for Paul, to be present with Christ meant to be absent from shame completely.

Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul, 194-95.

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What You Need to Know About Shame – Part 1

Whether we label it humiliation, embarrassment, ignominy, dishonor, disgust, or disgrace, the sensation of shame is so basic to the human condition that perhaps the most precise definition is the painfully acute awareness that something is wrong with me. It is the felt sensation of deep inadequacy. Shame is not simply an acknowledgement of perceived facts but rather an emotionally expressed and experienced phenomenon.

Shame is so off-putting that we will do just about anything to avoid sensing it, to the point of denying its presence or its intensity. The neural correlates tend to be self-reinforcing, however. Hence, we tend to feel shame in response to feeling shame. Although the exact neural correlates for this complex emotion have not been firmly established, recent research suggests that areas of the prefrontal and temporal cortices are likely connected with it. Shame can develop in children as young as eighteen months of age; some researchers suspect even sooner. This suggests that the sensation and experience of shame is active in the mind and body of a child before the development of language and logical, linear thought processes.

In other words, nonverbal cues such as facial expression and tone of voice may make a child feel shame long before she can logically comprehend why she feels that way. Over time as shame is experienced repeatedly, a child will construct a narrative to explain her feelings as a means of coping with those feelings.

Guilt, by contrast, emanates as a response to one’s behavior as it affects the emotional state of another, and it tends to develop in most children around the age of three to four. This emotion requires maturation of the brain to include a more distinct awareness of other people and their feelings.

. . . the sympathetic and  parasympathetic nervous systems . . . correspond to the general need of the body to either speed up (sympathetic) or slow down (parasympathetic) metabolically or behaviorally. Researchers tend to view these as the accelerator (sympathetic) and brakes (parasympathetic), each influencing the function of the three areas of the triune brain . . . .

When children are engaged, excited, and joyfully anticipating an activity, they are in the accelerator or sympathetic mode. Their heart and breathing rates increase, as does the activity of their gut. When they become quiet and slow down, they are applying the brakes of the parasympathetic system, with respective slowing of physiologic activity. This balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems is at the heart of emotional regulation.

Children require assistance to develop this balance. Usually it is not difficult for them to accelerate. Two-year-olds seem to have an endless supply of fuel and their expanding nervous systems find delight in exploring new such as toys, stairs, plants, scissors, and electrical outlets. At some point parents need to set limits for their children’s growth and safety, as well as for their own sanity. Yet parents must also help their children learn how to put on the brakes without slamming them, so that children can eventually do so themselves without emotional distress.

Whenever a child is excitedly exploring his or her world, a parent’s unexpected, harsh rebuke of “No!” may lead the child to slam on the brakes. Physiologically, the child may turn away, physically withdraw, and feel a deep sense of physical and emotional weightiness. This sense of feeling “bad” in this way is what the child eventually will describe as the sensation of shame.

Of course, to keep a child from imminent danger, this sort of action by a parent is sometimes necessary. Usually in this situation, however, a parent will quickly follow an abrupt rebuke with an expression of affection or an explanation to help the child make sense of his or her action. However, when this form of braking is not followed by a clear behavioral or logical reconnection, the child feels shame, which can lead to a barren wasteland of emotional confusion. This whiplash shift between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems can become wired so tightly in the child that the affect of shame is automatically triggered at the slightest hint of perceived disapproval. When this occurs, the child may bring the . . . propensity for shame, activated through implicit memory tracts, into adulthood.

Curt Thompson, Anatomy of the Soul, 192-94.

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Are You a Cynical Person?

Cynics are people who have grown skeptical about the goodness of life and who look down on claims to sincerity, morality, and value. They dismiss such claims as hollow and criticize programs for making improvements. Feeling disillusioned, discouraged, and hurt by their experience of life, their pained pride forbids them to think that others might be wiser and doing better than they themselves have done. On the contrary, they seem themselves as brave realists and everyone else as self-deceived. . . .

But in celebrating joy as God’s kindly gift, and in recognizing the potential for joy of everyday activities and relationships, Ecclesiates lays the right foundation.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God (2:24).

I commend joy (8:15).

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun (9:9).

Being too proud to enjoy the enjoyable is a very ugly shortcoming, and one that calls for immediate correction. Let it be acknowledged that . . . discovering how under God ordinary things can bring joy is the cure for cynicism.

J. I. Packer, “The Joy of Ecclesiastes: How a Wizened Sage Tamed My Youthful Cynicism,” CT, Sept. 2015, 58-59.

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Women, Sexual Desire, and “The Song” – Part 2

One reason some Christians today fear drinking wine and (if they are honest) fear the passions of sex is because one becomes lightheaded and loses control. And in fact, sex involves all portions of the brain. There are at least three separable yet profoundly intersecting portions of the brain: reptilian, limbic, and cortical. The reptilian portion regulates autonomic and nonconscious parts of our brain, including our sexual drive. The limbic structure is considered the framework for emotions and the foundation of our pleasure-seeking and pain-fleeing urges. This portion of the brain is more wired to our past experiences that unconsciously shape our inclinations, desires, and fears than to any other part of our brain. And finally, the cortical portion of the brain is involved in story, choice, regulation of desire and affect, and what we normally call thinking.

Our sexuality involves all three parts of our brain, not one alone. One portion of our brain can be at odds with another. We may know that a sexual fantasy or our desire for a specific sexual partner is wrong. We may work hard to stop it, but it simply won’t go away. In fact, the more effort we put into derailing the urge, often the stronger it gets. In large measure, it is because we have attempted to tackle a neuropsychological issue that involves cortical, limbic, and reptilian components of our brain with the assumption that if we change our “thinking” our struggle will be resolved. Our sexuality must be engaged at all three levels. The problem is that sexual desire and arousal lessens our higher executive functions (cortical) even as it intensifies our emotional awareness. Simply saying “Use your head” is not as useful in the process of arousal as it is when one is sexually sober.

For many the loss of optimal cortical control makes sex suspect, if not outright undesirable. Sex is like wine in more ways than one. Both lessen the effect of thought and intensify our capacity to feel. We get “high” with sex and are unable to escape its intoxication. Whether the high is from sex, wine, or drugs, the experience of craving can always be intensified with greater imagery and fantasy. No wonder many shut down sexuality when it appears to be removing our capacity for rational, fully aware, and utterly free choice. But while it is true that we are under the influence of limbic processes through desire and arousal, it is not as if our cortical capacity is gone; it is simply altered, and emotions are in ascendancy. For some people who have been taught not to trust their emotions but to be constantly vigilant and to trust reason instead, it seems unwise to diminish our more rational and cortical powers.

However, it is unwise not to bless the way God has made us. In reality one should completely trust neither reason nor emotions; both are affected by sin. But neither our emotions nor our reason are completely warped by sin. God can bring us enjoyments and benefits of the mind and emotions–and marital sex is one way that God delivers his grace to us.

In the poem, the woman’s compliments to the man continue. As we will see throughout the Song, compliments are the precursor to intimacy. Compliments need to be honest and not insincere flattery; they need to be authentic in the sense that they are deeply felt. Compliments are necessary to generate the trust that will allow one’s beloved to expose himself or herself–not only physically but also emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. . . .

The chorus, later identified as the daughters of Jerusalem, affirms the glory and goodness of the couple’s relationship. They function here as cheerleaders of the relationship and encourage the man and woman to enjoy their union. Repeating the sentiment of the woman, the couple’s love deserves even more praise than wine, which deserves much praise for gladdening the hearts of people (Ps. 104:15). And the woman, not threatened by the attraction of the other women for her man, responds by acknowledging the appropriateness of their affection for him.

Sex intensifies the danger inherent in all relationships. It creates a narrow, at times razor-thin line, between what is holy and lovely and what is profane and ugly. The women adore her man, and this intensifies her desire for him. But this is only a step away from the jealousy that might be felt over their attention. He neither indulges their attention nor turns away from his beloved, yet his erotic presence is palpable and provokes sexual desire in the chorus. Our sexuality, though meant to be intrinsically private, is also part of the public poetic imagination and conversation.

Dan B. Allender and Tremper Longman III, God Loves Sex, 46-47.


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