I would rather see Song of Solomon as a poetic text describing the sexual longing and relationship between a woman and the man she pursues than much else; however, it has historically been interpreted as a metaphor or allegory for the spiritual union between God and and His people.
We are rather prickly, or prudish, about seeing the spiritual union between God and His people as anything but a mystical enfolding — or any other words you want to use meant to push us back from direct euphemisms that sound too much like we are having intercourse with the divine.
My view on the Song of Solomon is not shaded by my desire to refrain from seeing the mystical union between Creator and Creature as sexual in nature (the union is not; there is no reality in which Jesus is your boyfriend), but rather, I read the Song of Solomon as a naughty love poem because I value the theology of a heated and passionate physical love between two individuals.
But, do we have other examples of sex and marriage used as symbols, metaphors, or allegory of the divine-human interaction? Sure we do. There are at least three I want to bring to your attention.
In Galatians 4.24, St Paul says that we are to take the ménage à trois of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar as an allegory of God’s promise and how faith plays a part in how we are drawn into a union with God.
In Ephesians 5.25–33, the blessed writer speaks directly to the union of husband and wife by speaking indirectly to the marriage between Christ and the Church.
But it is the Book of the Hosea, a prophet, that is one of the best allegories, so to speak. In it, the prophet is commanded to take a prostitute as a wife. Here, the marriage — including sex inside and outside of marriage, with her husband and with men not her husband — serves as the parable of God and Israel, whom God seems to delight in calling, repeatedly, a whore..
Can Song of Solomon actually be a huge poetic metaphor for God and His People? Sure, but it doesn’t follow the same basic motifs. For one, there is no basic storyline or end goal. For another, God is nowhere to be seen. For another, the entire story mimics both Egyptian and Ugaritic love poetry, with its fast paced dialogue and focus on wooing.
Wooing the opposite sex. Not God.
Does this limit us from seeing it as such? Absolutely not.
But, if we really want to have a healthy conversation about sex and then one about our union with God, we need to read Song of Solomon in the bedroom first. Then in the pulpit.
And in the days of Ashley Madison, Backpage, and Craigslist, don’t you think we need a bit more of this?