Sunday June 2nd: No service in Lausanne. Join us at the church retreat in Leysin!

Romantic Comparisons and the Gospel of Christ

One of the joys of being a pastor (and Su would say, of being a pastor’s wife!) is that we get to spend time with nearly every young couple in our church who are getting married. Typically, we spend seven evening sessions with them, helping prepare them for the joys (and struggles) that are bound to come their way. And one piece of advice we give - and like everything else we must have stolen this from someone else - is, ‘never compare’. If one, or both, of them have had a previous relationship, especially if that relationship was sexual, never make comparisons. Never.

And yet.

While that advice is good - and potentially hurt protecting and thus marriage saving - the Bible gives us a number of examples where a couple do make comparisons. But these are general and never direct. They compare to un-named others not to a specific other and certainly not an ‘ex-‘. And they are always positive.

Think of the husband speaking to his wife in Proverbs 31:29: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Far from denigrating his wife, far from denigrating other women, he speaks highly of them all. But his highest praise is for his wife, because, in comparison to all these other excellent women, she’s unbeatable! What might that do to a woman’s confidence and self-worth she knows her husband means it when he says it? And might that, at least in small part, explain why the woman of Proverbs 31 exudes a ‘can-do’, multi-competent attitude?

Or think of what the man and the woman say of each other in Song of Songs and the comparisons they make. Sure, some are a little esoteric to our ears, but the thinking behind others is abundantly clear. Take what the man says in 1:9: “I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.” Now, comparing your wife to a horse is maybe not the best move, but look closely at what he’s saying. Her presence excites him the way the presence of a mare would excite the stallions pulling Pharaoh’s chariots. He is as distracted by her beauty as they would be of that mare.

Then again, in 2:1, the woman describes herself humbly as ‘a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.’ In other words, she’s saying, I know you find me beautiful (see 1:15 where he tells her so) but my beauty is no better than that of a common flower. But look how he responds: “As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women” (2:2). He’s comparing her beauty to that of all other young women (again, he mentions no names) and says, there is no comparison. You stand out like a lily among thorns. And given that there are a number of places in the Song where she makes comments about herself that suggest that at times she has a less than positive view of her own body, that might be just the kind of comparison she does need to hear.

Can some comparisons be destructive at worst, unhelpful at best? Yes, without question. But there is also a type of comparison that builds up, that helps us see our worth in the eyes of one whose opinion matters to us. And sometimes we need to hear that. Sometimes the one you love needs to hear that.

But that need points us to something higher and deeper: the need to hear words of love and approval from the One Opinion that counts above all others. And that is what the gospel offers us. Not a comparison to others, but a word of undeserved acceptance, because Christ, the incomparable one, was rejected and scorned and crowned with brambles, and his appearance marred beyond any comparison (Is 52:14) so that we might be made beautiful. Hear that word, believe that word, and it has a humbling and healing and confidence-building power beyond even the most loving comparison a loved one can make.