The Dancing Puritan

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Captivated by Generosity

Captivated is a seldom used word. The word means to be positively captured by something or someone in a mesmerizing kind of way. When you are captivated it is difficult to shake off, from your mind, whatever it is that has captivated you. I have been captivated over the past several days by a couple of verses in the Bible.

Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it (Psalm 104:25-26).

I am not so much captivated by Leviathan or the innumerable creatures that fill the sea. I read this passage to our children and reminded them that when they were swimming in the Atlantic Ocean recently that they were swimming with innumerable creatures. They were not comforted or captivated by that thought.

What captivates me is not Leviathan but God. I am captivated by the generosity of God who gives us not only what we need but what we do not need. I am unaware of any particular need in history (or present) for the Leviathan. It seems that God made that creature, in part, for the purpose of playfully splashing in the water. Leviathan obviously needed the sea to live, but the sea did not need Leviathan. God built the sea as a giant swimming pool for Leviathan's play. Are you captivated by that thought?

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart (14-15).

Think about those two verses. The livestock need grass and man needs plants for food. But does man need wine to make the heart glad or oil to make his face shine? Isn't that a big fat waste of resources? Even if you believe that the primary original purpose of wine was to help make ancient water safer, you are still stuck with one of the purposes of wine being to gladden the heart of man. This passage does not address wine as a safety or medicinal agent. It addresses it as an external stimulant to gladness.

John Calvin wrote it is lawful to use wine not only in cases of necessity, but also thereby to make us merry.

The same is true about oil. Are there medicinal benefits to face oil? There may be. But the passage does not deal with those sorts of benefits. It says that the purpose of oil is to make his face shine. Man needs bread to strengthen his heart (as the passage says) but he does not receive bread alone. He gets wine and oil.

I am captivated not by wine and oil but by God and his goodness. God gives not only what we need (bread) but he gives us what we do not need (wine, oil, and Leviathan). He gives us bread but not bread alone.

Do we need, in the sense of physical survival, face-oil, wine, art, sea-creatures, perfume, and jewelry? Jewelry and perfume add no necessary nutrients to the body (though both might cause the heart to beat a bit faster in certain circumstances). Lotion and lipstick do not have as primary purposes the strengthening of muscles or the reduction of body fat (though they could serve as an external inducement to run to your spouse and therefore weight loss might result). We do not need those things to survive but we cannot really live without them. We cannot really live on bread alone. We do actually need the generosity of God to really live.

When I read the Song of Solomon I see a lot of things that are not necessary for physical life (perfume, wine, henna blossoms, and lotions). I do see a lot of things that make life more interesting, sweeter, and beautiful.The rigid man has no room for wine, perfume, jewelry, art, music, and Leviathan. Since they are not necessary then he does not see them as useful. Or, he sees the abuses of such things and forbids and decries the usage of them. He cannot grasp how wine, perfume, and even creative martial intimacy can glorify God and bring real good to God's people.

How many marriages have dried up due to the absence of the non-necessities of life? Such marriages are utilitarian. Black and white  are considered sufficient in such homes. Why savor a great steak when the mega-bar down at the local feeding place will suffice?

Do you have room in your life to be captivated? I am soon to celebrate 30 years of marriage with my lovely wife. She is more to me than simply someone to co-exist with. I join Solomon in saying:

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon (SOS 4:9-11).

We do not need jewelry, fragrance, oil, spice, and nectar to survive. We can exist (temporarily) on bread alone but we cannot really live by bread alone. To really live we need the generosity of God. I am captivated by such a generous God that gave His one and only Son.