Here in England, we call a passionate kiss a “snog.” This has always puzzled me, for you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find a less romantic sounding word. Perhaps even stranger is the fact that “Song of Songs” is actually an anagram of “Snog of Snogs”—which in light of the content of that book, you’ve got to admit, is pretty uncanny. When it comes to worship, the book of Song of Songs is always a contentious issue. Is it simply celebrating love and God’s gift of sex within the right boundaries? Or is it a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride? Some say it’s one, some say it’s the other—whilst many conclude it might be both. Where you stand on that issue might well determine your answer to the following question: Is romantic imagery appropriate in congregational expressions of worship?
Perhaps, like me, you’ve even come across songs that borrow from this book and ask God to “kiss me.” Now, through this piece, I’m not aiming to start a heated debate on what the Songs of Songs is or isn’t intended to be (though I do think we should all at some point enter into some conversations and study as to where we stand on this). But my purpose here is the same as it always is—to make sure each one of us is thinking through what we sing in our gathered worship.
Help or Hinder?
When I first became involved in worship leading, I often used the song “Isn’t He.” Part of its attraction was the fact it only had a few chords—and if you’d have heard me play guitar back then, you’d understand what I’m saying. However, the song also seemed to help people voice something meaningful to Jesus. Yet one time after leading a youth group in the song, a friend posed an important question: Is it really fair to make fifteen-year-old schoolboys sing the words “Isn’t He beautiful?” Now don’t get me wrong—they weren’t disagreeing with the fact that our King Jesus is the most awe-inspiring figure the eyes of our hearts will ever see. But they were just wondering if the word “beautiful” was a helpful one—both in terms of theological astuteness and cultural context. And they may have had a point.
I still value that song; it was part of my journey, and it truly helped me encounter the Saviour. I’m not even suggesting we never use the word “beautiful”—just that we think through our use of it. For outside of the Song of Songs (which we’re laying aside for now to save debate), is it a term we readily find voiced to God in worship throughout Scripture?
Just the other day I had a (not to be identified!) worship album playing loudly in the background—within earshot of my local window cleaner. I figured it might do him some good to hear some worship music. What I didn’t figure was that one of the songs contained a string of romantic-sounding lyrics. Reaching as fast as I could for the Pause button, I realised something. I wasn’t ashamed of Jesus, but I wasn’t one hundred percent convinced of the way we sometimes draw near to Him. William Barclay had a pretty strong opinion on this: “The New Testament is never in the slightest danger of sentimentalising the idea of God.” (1)
A True Echo
Sometimes within the walls of the church we fall into the habit of saying or doing things we would never do if we were really in touch with the world. Yet that is really only the secondary point. The primary one is whether or not we are writing and choosing songs that are a true echo of the pattern of Scripture.
Now before you think I’m pointing the finger, I myself have written a few “love songs” to God in my time. Whilst I’m not necessarily writing them (or other people’s songs) off, I am thinking a lot more these days about where to draw the line. A couple of years ago, I penned a piece called “If I Have Not Love” based on the passage in 1 Corinthians 13. It was the first ‘love song’ lyrics I’d used in years—and I tried hard to clarify within the song what I meant by the word “love.” I wasn’t referring to warm, gushy feelings, but instead a reverent passion and sense of holy devotion—yes, intimacy perhaps, but intimacy with guts and awe. At least, I hope so.
I’m no theologian, and I don’t have half as many answers as I have questions, but I know this: it’s essential in these days of new and creative worship expressions that we’re constantly giving thought to the ways we address our amazing God. I hope these little thoughts help you in that quest.
 William Barclay, “The Letter to the Hebrews,” The Daily Study Bible, St Andrews Press, p.187