By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. (Gen 3:19)
You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you. (Song 4:7)
Isn’t it ironic that, despite all the advances of science and technology, the ultimate conclusion that humanity seems to reach is that of our own insignificance? We can probe the deepest reaches of space, only to find a seemingly endless vacuum of gases, dust and radiation. We can dig into the deepest depths of the earth in search of our own “natural” and scientific origins, only to come to the conclusion that all life on earth evolves from microorganisms and oxygen-releasing cyanobacteria. Wherever we turn, we are confronted by our minuscule insignificance in the grand scheme of things: we seem to be nothing more than specks of dust in an ever-evolving, cold and merciless universe.
Our hearts, however, long for something different: we crave meaningful and enduring love, fellowship, happiness and significance. Science can never adequately explain why we have this stubborn, seemingly unnatural craving for eternal goods, but this should come as no surprise to us: we were originally designed for eternity. We were never meant to enjoy love, beauty, power, wealth and well-being for only a brief period of time and then lose them; we were originally designed to enjoy them forever, in loving fellowship with God and with one another. That is why, even after the Fall doomed us to an existence of dust-like insignificance, our hearts still long for eternity. Many of us, not knowing where to look and despairing of ever finding it, resolve to content ourselves with the intoxications of earthly pleasures. If eternity and its longings are simply a delusion, many people say, then “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” But the heights of earthly joys can never satisfy us, for we were designed to enjoy everlasting—not temporary—joys. Therefore, those who abide by this worldview tend to live discontented lives, always looking for the next round of pleasure, praise or achievement.
The Bride of the Song of Songs starts her ode with a longing: she yearns for a love that is “more delightful than wine” (Song 1:2), that is, more beautiful than anything this world has to offer. She desires the kisses of Him who is the “most excellent of men,” whose “lips have been anointed with grace,” who can redeem her from her life of discontentment and insignificance. The Bride in the Song, in fact, symbolizes all of humanity, for we all long for this blissful, everlasting and heavenly love. The King (King Solomon in the Song of Songs) depicts Christ, the King of the universe, who despite all our sins and failings finds us so enchanting that He keeps proclaiming “how beautiful” we are.
To a world that insists that we are but dust, He proclaims us to be His most beloved, “all-beautiful” and flawless. He bids us to “arise” and come with Him, out of the futility of worldly thinking and patterns, and to learn from Him. He invites us to live in Him and to journey through life together with Him, cultivating beautiful gardens and vineyards that will last through all eternity. Contrast this with the beauty and splendors of this world, which bloom for a short while and then wither! Scripture is correct in comparing them to the grass and flowers of the field.
But our journey of love with our Saviour is not without its challenges. The first challenge comes from the derision and misunderstanding of those who have not yet known His love. In the Song of Songs, the Bride (also known as the Shulammite) had to deal with the anger of her brothers, her fear of society’s disdain, and even persecution from the authorities. In fact, the Song is peppered with war imagery: the King’s carriage is escorted by battle-ready warriors, and the Bride herself is often likened to a war horse, a fortified tower, and majestic bannered troops. All this reminds us of the reality of spiritual warfare, which requires us to constantly be “self-controlled and alert” while continually abiding in God’s love.
Then, there are the “little foxes” that ruin the lovers’ blooming vineyards, perhaps an allusion to “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things” that choke God’s word within us and make us unfruitful. Scripture reminds us that we have been “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” It is imperative that we tend diligently to these eternal seeds planted within us, so that our heavenly vineyards may produce fruits that will last through all eternity. After all, didn’t our Lord remind us that He is the Vine and we the branches, and that we shall bear much fruit if we remain in Him? Let us not be caught lamenting at the end of our earthly lives, “So-and-so were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected.”
But the most difficult challenge in the Song of Songs comes from the King’s seemingly capricious presence. On two different occasions, the Bride seems to have “lost” her lover, pitifully bewailing, “I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for Him but did not find Him,” and again, “I called Him but He did not answer.” In her frantic efforts to find Him, she was found, beaten and bruised by the watchmen of the walls, who should be protecting her, but who perhaps were corrupt or mistook her for an evil person. The King in the Song is often compared to “a gazelle or a young stag”, which often comes “leaping across the mountains”, but sometimes also stands hidden behind a wall.
Indeed, the curse of sin and our fallen nature have caused eternal things to be invisible to our mortal eyes. We sometimes feel the Lord’s presence so clearly that we bask in the comfort of His beauty and majesty; at other times, we are unable to feel His presence at all. In our frantic efforts to “find” Him again, we often look to the wrong people in all the wrong places, thus further exacerbating our pain and suffering. But the Song of Songs calls us to believe in the enduring power of Love. “Until the day breaks and the shadows flee,” the King vows in the Song, “I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense.” Incense stands for the prayers of the faithful, and our Lord assures us that, until that Day when we can see Him face to face comes, He will continually intercede for us and guide us with His love. This is why St. Paul exclaims in his letter to the Romans:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37-39)
It is unsurprising, therefore, that St. Paul connects the power of a believer with his ability to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” To the measure that we are rooted and established in Christ’s love, which “surpasses knowledge,” we will be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” This participation in God’s divine life, of course, will only reach its fullness in Heaven, when we shall be united with Christ for all eternity. This is perhaps why the Song of Songs doesn’t end with a “happily ever after”, for this eternal felicity is yet to come. It ends, rather, with the Bride’s plea for her lover to “come away” to the “spice-laden mountains” of prayer, for before the Day breaks and the shadows flee, it is in prayer and communion with the King that we can most fully savor His presence and love.
This month of February marks the beginning of Lent, but it also marks the feast known internationally as Valentine’s Day. While these two occasions seem to be very different at first glance, they both reflect our common longing for true and eternal Love. Three times in the Song of Songs, the Bride adjures the daughters of Jerusalem not to “arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” For every soul, the right time at which she is ready to accept the love of Christ is different. In the Song, the Bride’s friends inquire about their “young sister”, whose “breasts are not yet grown” (i.e. who is not old enough for love). With that love which “hopes and believes all things,” they plan lovingly for “the day she is spoken for,” when she will be ready to welcome the King into her life and journey together with Him. This Lenten season, let us purify our lives and grow in our Saviour’s love. Let our lives be a testimony to that true and everlasting Love which “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” and which never ends. And, with eyes of humility and faith, let us pray for our unbelieving brothers and sisters, calmly looking forward to the day when they will know our Lord’s love, and be made whole again. Amen.
 The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, “Early Life on Earth—Animal Origins,” https://naturalhistory.si.edu/education/teaching-resources/life-science/early-life-earth-animal-origins.
 Genesis 3
 Ecclesiastes 3:11
 1 Corinthians 15:32
 Psalm 45:2
 Song 1:15; 4:1,9-10; 6:4-5; 7:1,6.
 Song 4:7
 Song 2:10, 13; 4:8.
 Cf. Romans 12:1-2
 Cf. Matthew 11:28-30
 John 14:23, Revelation 3:20
 Song 2:15, 4:12-16, 6:2&11, 7:12, 8:11-13; John 15:16.
 1 Peter 1:24, cf. Isaiah 51:12
 Song 1:6
 Song 8:1
 Song 5:7
 Song 3:7-8
 Song 1:9, 4:4, 6:4, 7:4.
 Ephesians 6:10-18, 1 Peter 5:8-9.
 Song 2:15
 Mark 4:19 (cf. Matthew 13:22, Luke 8:14)
 1 Peter 1:23
 John 15:5
 Song 1:6b
 Song 3:1
 Song 5:6b
 Song 5:7
 Song 2:9,17; 8:14
 Song 2:8
 Song 2:9
 2 Corinthians 4:18
 Song 8:6-7
 Song 4:6
 Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4
 Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:24-25.
 Ephesians 3:18
 Ephesians 3:17-19
 Revelation 21:1-4
 Song 8:14
 Song 2:17, 4:6
 Song 2:7, 3:5, 8:4
 Song 8:8, cf. Ezekiel 16:7-8.
 1 Corinthians 13:7
 1 Corinthians 13:7-8