O Love ever burning and never extinguished caritas, my God, set me on fire.
– St. Augustine
Romantic tension is an essential plot device found in most any film, whether it is a romantic comedy, thriller, or action adventure. Consider Indy and Marion inRaiders of the Lost Ark. Rick and Ilsa inCasablanca. You’ve Got Mail’s Joe and Kathleen. Or James Bond and his fling-of-the-moment in the latest 007 adventure. Romance is an integral part of the films we watch because moviemakers know it sells tickets. We want romance portrayed on the silver screen, just like we want it in real life. It’s part of how we are wired. We long to pursue someone we admire or crave to have an admirer woo us. We yearn to go beyond ourselves and share something special with someone we are attracted to.
The concept of romance is usually reserved to describe a passionate relationship between a man and a woman. In the song “Wild Honey” [Lyrics] [iTunes], however, U2 spins convention upside down. Using romantic imagery, U2 explores the nature of God’s untamed relationship that he’d like to have with you and I. Not only does “Wild Honey” cause you to revisit your understanding of what romance is, but also the very nature of God’s love.
A Planet Full of Prudes
While romance is a hot ticket item at the multiplexes, this idea is quickly left behind as we walk through the doors of our church. In fact, I bet you’ve never heard a sermon from the pulpit on Sunday morning that used words like “ravishing”, “untamed”, or “romance” when describing God’s interaction with the people he made. In spite of the fact that the scriptures paint a wilder picture, we’ve become a planet full of prudes when we think about our relationship to God. In our minds, God is powerful and holy. Someone to be revered, honored, obeyed. He is our savior, shelter, and strength. U2 speaks to this idea when they sing in “Wild Honey”:
From the cruel sun
You were shelter
You were my shelter and my shade
These descriptions, mirroring Isaiah 25:4, are absolutely true. But they are insufficient by themselves. In fact, when we view God only as our holy, powerful protector, our relationship with him quickly becomes obligatory, much like a medieval serf paying homage to the powerful, but benevolent landowner king. Authors Brent Curtis and John Eldredge describe how this twisted view impacted their lives: “Our faith began to feel more like a series of problems that needed to be solved or principles that had to be mastered before we could finally enter into the abundant life promised us by Christ.” When our view of God is purely as an authority figure, we dumb down the nature of his love for us. At best, his love becomes much like a grandfather’s affection for his grandchild – sincere, warm, and protective, but never intimate. In fact, words that convey something stronger are considered inappropriate, deemed in poor taste. Intimacy is male-female stuff. God’s love is all about devotion, honor, and respect. Julian of Norwich tells how this perspective skews our understanding of God’s love: “Some of us believe that God is almighty and may do everything, and that he is all-wisdom and can do everything; but that he is all-love and wishes to do everything – there we stop short. It is this ignorance, it seems to me, that hinders most of God’s lovers.”
The Divine Romance
Because of our prudish nature in our relationship with God, a scan of the lyrics to “Wild Honey” causes most to conclude that Bono is singing about human romance. On the contrary, U2 is looking at the relationship between God and his people. They sing of a God who desires us and wants to do the kinds of things that lovers do – play, hang out, and simply be together. The first verse goes like this:
In the days
When we were swinging from the trees
I was a monkey
Stealing honey from a swarm of bees
I could taste
I could taste you even then
And I would chase you down the wind
Spoken from God’s point of view, this verse depicts the world in a time before the sin of Adam and Eve, a time in which God could be playful and wild with his creation without any encumbrances between them. In his classic series The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis depicts Jesus Christ as a lion named Aslan. Aslan shows the same untamed affection to his faithful as U2 sings about in “Wild Honey.” After Aslan is resurrected in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he says before playfully running off, “I feel my strength coming back to me. Oh, children, catch me if you can!” Main character Lucy never can decide whether playing with Aslan in this manner was “more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten.” In Prince Caspian, Aslan invites children to get on his back and go for a lively romp, and in The Last Battle, he’s running along side the heroes of the story as they race together “further up, further in” in new Narnia. Bono and C.S. Lewis are pointing to a wild side of God that we rarely think about and understand even less.
Curtis and Eldredge refer to love that comes this part of God as the “sacred romance” between God and his people. While “romance” may seem like a poor word choice when speaking of our relationship with God, that’s only because of our limited understanding of the term. Romance is far more than physical attraction; it is an intimate, passionate desire for something beyond ourselves, a “longing for transcendence” . God is “a lover at heart” says Curtis and Eldredge. Jars of Clay call him a “fast pursuing lover” in their song “Hymn”. You can easily imagine this sort of God singing the lyrics of the “Wild Honey” chorus:
If you go there with me
You can do just what you please
Yeah, just blowing in the breeze
Wild, wild, wild
God specifically created us to be his lovers. To borrow a line from an old Sting song, God “burns for you.” C.S. Lewis speaks to this point in The Four Loves, saying “God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that he may love and perfect them.” Not that this reality is always easy to fully grasp. Bono himself exclaims in an interview, “It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people.” Once you understand the romantic nature of God’s love, the Bible changes in its significance. It begins to read surprisingly much like a love letter. “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you,” says the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 62:5). He adds a few verses later, “You will be called Sought After” (Isaiah 62:12). The Songs of Songs is an Old Testament book that is more than just a story of sexual love between a man and woman, but also an allegory of God’s intimate relationship to his faithful.
Seen in this light, even the hard stuff in the Bible begins to make more sense. Harsh words, far from being hate mail from an angry dictator, can now be seem properly as hurt words from a heartbroken, jilted lover. The prophet Ezekiel cries out to the idol-worshipping Israelites, “You adulteress wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband!” (Ezekiel 16:32) This imagery is even more apparent in the book of Hosea, which chronicles the story of prophet Hosea’s marriage to an unfaithful wife. Hosea’s sad story mirrors the heartbreak that God experienced when the Israelites cheat on him. The surprising truth is that God is depicted throughout the Old and New Testament as someone who has always wanted to woo humans. Simon Tugwell says, “So long as we imagine it is we who have to look for God, we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about – He is looking for us.” This is not just something that he decided to do because we happened to be born into the world. In fact, it was his idea at the get-go. U2 sings:
Did I know you?
Did I know you even then?
Before the clocks kept time
Before the world was made
Once you begin to realize that God has longed to romance you even before he created the universe, Christianity is transformed from a religion into a full-fledged love affair. When you enter into a love relationship like this with God, the Christian life is no longer a set of rules and regulations that you must follow to avoid punishment. Instead, as Bono sings, “You can do just what you please.” Bono isn’t preaching some sort of hippie, free love, no rules religion. Instead, he is echoing something St. Augustine proclaimed over fifteen hundred years ago: “Love God, and then do as you please.” In other words, when you are truly intimate with God, your utmost desire and preoccupation is going to be to want to please your divine lover through obedience and devotion. In fact, the reality of sin itself changes. Instead of breaking God’s rules, sin becomes something that breaks God’s heart.
Few believers today, however, really think of their relationship with God as a love affair and partake in the intimacy that God desires. When we fail to experience this divine romance, we inevitably seek substitutes for filling that untamed spot in our soul. These usually come in the form of earthly relationships*, sex, expensive toys, career, sports, and hobbies. These replace God as the objects of devotion that we become passionate and consumed about. Of course, we don’t find long-term fulfillment in these stand-ins for God; we only end up growing more and more restless in our search. As St. Augustine says, “For You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Instead of giving up, God waits for us from the sidelines as we waste our time and energy on these alternatives. Bono sings:
I’m still standing, I’m still standing
Where you left me
Are you still growing wild
With everything tame around you?
The mainstream belief today is that God is a being who wants to handcuff our passions instead of fulfill them. As a result, people run from him in search of freedom in every other alley way under the sun. But, as the song suggests, the great irony is that these replacements that people turn to are “tame” when compared to the untamed, wild reality of God’s love. All the while we look elsewhere, God continues to court us, trying to woo us back to him. U2 expresses this, saying:
I send you flowers
Cut flowers for your hall
I know your garden’s full
But is there sweetness at all?
In today’s world, the word “Puritan” conjures up stereotyped images of legalistic, prudish folks bent on ridding the world of fun. Regardless of the truth of those stereotypes, there was at least one Puritan, Pastor Richard Baxter, who understood perfectly the wild, passionate side of God. Baxter wrote:
Is it a small thing in your eyes to be loved by God – to be the son, the spouse, the love, the delight of the King of glory? Christian, believe this, and think about it: you will be eternally embraced in the arms of the love which was from everlasting, and will extend to everlasting – of the love which brought the Son of God’s love from heaven to earth, from earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to glory – that love which was weary, hungry, tempted, scorned, scourged, buffeted, spat upon, crucified, pierced, which fasted, prayed, taught, healed, wept, sweated, bled, died. That love will eternally embrace you.”
God has already demonstrated his amazing love for you with the sacrifice that Jesus Christ performed on the cross, making a relationship possible between God and humans. He wants now to transform what was started into something wild and passionate. “Won’t you take me, take me please,” pleads God in “Wild Honey.” Bono adds:
You could go there if you please
And if you go there, go with me
Bono’s use “could” and “if” illustrate how gloriously possible this romance is for you and I. In fact, there’s just one condition to making this sacred love affair a reality: simply open up your heart and pursue him too. Will you?
“Wild Honey” offers a fresh perspective on the relationship that we can have with God. As you consider the radical truth of God pursuing you as his love, take the following action steps: During the next 14 days, read the Bible specifically as a “love letter”. Read into the text seeing what God is trying to say as a divine lover. Write a “love note” to God opening up to him and expressing yourself as you would to the “love of your life”. Write down a list of five things in your life that you get passionate about. Evaluate each item on the list and honestly ask yourself whether it compliments your relationship with God or whether it serves as a substitute for God’s passion. For each item on your list that is substituting for a closer relationship with God, surrender it to him and pray that his romance overcomes any of these distractions.
Isaiah 25:4, Isaiah 62 Brent Curtis & John Eldredge’s The Sacred Romance