Wisdom means living with directed passions. We learn this especially in the Song of Songs. Take a look at this well-known verse from the Bible's most extended love poem:
I am my love's and my love is mine.
She is his, and he is hers---forever. Their love is an exclusive love. That is, their love is constrained---constrained to exclusivity. It's channeled like water through a canal. Each lover gives love with all its enjoyments to the other person and to no other. Along the way, threats come to this love, such as the guards who come and threaten the woman (Song of Songs 5:7). And people ask why she loves him and not some other (Song of Songs 5:9). But amid the challenges, their love remains strong and fixed upon one another.
This is exactly what God's Word is celebrating in this poem---the fires and passions of marital love: "For love is as strong as death; ardent love is as unrelenting as Sheol. Love's flames are fiery flames---the fiercest of all. Mighty waters cannot extinguish love; rivers cannot sweep it away" (Song of Songs 8:6-7).
Do you see how powerful love is? Once set in motion, it's nearly unstoppable, like mighty flood waters. Many of us know from experience how powerful love can be. But our culture fails to recognize that it's the very strength of love that requires us to be careful with it. Water is surely good, but water unleashed is destructive. Three times the poem warns, "Do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time" (Song of Songs 2:7; 3:5; 8:4).
Love can surely be foolish and wrong. We too easily love the wrong things and too easily love in the wrong ways. This is why Jesus never separates love and obedience (John 14:15,21). Our culture believes not that God is love but that love is a god. It makes an idol out of love, as many of the love songs on the radio and romance movies in the theater testify. It believes you can always justify some action or lifestyle by calling it "loving" and that nothing should constrain love---not God's law, not God's wisdom.
This is why biblical wisdom is so desperately needed. Wisdom recognizes that fallen humans can take a good thing like love and pervert it. So wisdom channels our passions into life-giving canals. It channels the energy of a 5-year-old into activity on the playground instead of fighting with a sibling. It channels a passion for justice into a legal career instead of revenge. It channels a passion for cooking into hospitality for fellow church members instead of gluttony. In other words, wisdom takes the raw energies and emotions and affections that come with being human and directs them in a life-giving path.
Think of a boat sitting in the middle of the ocean. Which way is the right way to go? A person might feel deeply passionate that the boat should turn this way. But without wisdom to guide it, what are the chances that this deep passion will guide the boat in the right direction?
The beauty of God's wisdom is that he has made us with passions and has given us his wise Word to guide those passions. The Song of Songs is a perfect example: it places the diamond of marital love into the platinum prongs of wisdom.
This is an excerpt from The Gospel Project for Adults Bible Study from LifeWay. The Gospel Project is an ongoing 13-week Bible study curriculum for all age groups that helps people see Scripture as one over-arching story that points to what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Find out more and download one month to review free at www.gospelproject.com
Jonathan Leeman is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., editorial director of 9Marks, and author of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, Reverberation, Church Membership, and Church Discipline. His PhD work is in the area of political theology. You can follow him on Twitter.