Jane Studdock’s story suggests what many of us might repent of.
[Readers: Before we continue our series on Lent, you’ve probably come across the term “the West” when reading about the war in Ukraine. But what does “the West” mean? Russia scholar Stephen Kotkin has an excellent answer in this interview.]
Readers of C. S. Lewis recognize the name Jane Studdock. She’s the protagonist in Lewis’ That Hideous Strength. Jane is married to Mark. The couple are modern intellectuals stuck in an unhappy marriage. Jane’s a feminist, Mark aims to be a professor. Both are what we’d call “religious nones”—people who’ve heard for example that Jesus is king… but so what?
Then Jane begins having strange dreams. Christians help her understand them, taking Jane to see Miss Ironwood. Unsure of what’ll happen, Jane steels herself in the knowledge that she can handle frank conversations. But in the waiting room, she realizes her frankness doesn’t extend to sex. So Jane grabs a magazine to distract her. The first article is about sex.
She reads: “The beauty of the female is the root of joy to the female as well as to the male. To desire the enjoying of her own beauty is the obedience of Eve, and to both it is in the lover that the beloved tastes her own delightedness.’” Translated, Jane’s greatest joy is in tasting the beauty of her spouse. That’s not what a feminist in a bad marriage hopes to read.
Jane is next taken to meet Ransom where she’s immediately “unmade” (Lewis’ word). Looking at Ransom’s Christlike face, “all the old images of King Solomon stole back into her mind.” “For the first time she tasted the word King itself with all its associations,” including marriage. There’s that word again: taste. Jane tasted the word King associated with marriage.
Soon after, Jane comes to faith, as does Mark. That Hideous Strength closes with Jane and Mark returning to their marriage bed, to nuptial union (read the last chapter). But why does Lewis highlight King Solomon? And how is King associated with marriage?
Lewis is referencing the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs), written for King Solomon’s wedding day (3:7-11). But as Brant Pitre writes in Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, much of the language used to describe Solomon the bridegroom is associated elsewhere in scripture to describe God the Bridegroom and his spousal love for his bride. And, since the bride’s greatest joy is found in tasting the beauty of her husband, the Song of Solomon also highlights the bride’s spousal love for her husband. This is why much of the language used to describe the bride is associated elsewhere in scripture to describe God’s Bride and her spousal love for her husband, God.
Here are some of these associations in the Song of Solomon. The bride describes the bridegroom as he “whom my soul loves” (1:7, 3:1, 2, 3, 4). He brings “me into his chambers” (1:4), making me lie down (1:7), whose “speech is most sweet” (5:16), so that “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (6:3). This is marital language, the language of nuptial union, used elsewhere in scripture to describe union with the God of Israel.
And remember that King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. What’s that got to do with a bride? Well, note how the curtain is of blue and purple, crimson fabrics, fine linen (2 Chr.3:14). In front of the house Solomon made chains like a necklace (2 Chr.3:15-16). He made fountains of living waters to flow out of the Temple for Jerusalem (Zech.13:1,14:8).
Now read the Song of Solomon. Much of the language used to describe the temple is associated in the Song of Songs to describe a bride. She is lovely like the curtains of Solomon (1:5) The scent of her garments is like the scent of Lebanon (4:11). She is like a “garden locked,” a fountain, a well of living water (4:12,15). Perhaps most striking of all, Solomon says of his bride: You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, lovely as Jerusalem” (6:4).
Pitre points out that any first-century Jew would have known that Tirzah was the first capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem was the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 15:33; 2 Samuel 5:5). In other words, like the Temple itself, the beautiful bride of the Song of Songs encompasses all twelve tribes of Israel in herself.
The Song of Songs closes with the bride being too young to be married (8:1-10). The book doesn’t end with a wedding but with the bride’s last words for her bridegroom to come quickly (8:14). Have you ever associated this with Jesus the Bridegroom’s last words: “Yes, I am coming quickly!” And the bride’s last words: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev.22:20)
So… what’s this got to do with Lent… and the cross? Two associations come to mind. First, many Christians see Jesus on the cross wearing a crown of thorns. King Jesus. He is King. But like Jane before she come to faith, few associate King Solomon with King Jesus, and Solomon the Bridegroom in Song of Songs with Jesus the Bridegroom on the cross.
The cross? Yes. In Jewish tradition, the wedding of God and Israel is consummated through sacrifice and worship. In Christian tradition, the wedding of God and the church is consummated through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. It is when he “marries” us. For 2,000 years, the Christian tradition has held that we taste our Bridegroom in taking the Eucharist.
Second association: as Jesus’ bride, we are “betrothed to Christ our husband” that we “might be presented to him as a pure virgin” (II Cor.11:2). Purity requires repenting of our idolatries. Idolatry is making something the main thing when it’s not the main thing. Prophets thunder against idolatry, and for the Old Testament prophets, salvation is not just about the forgiveness of sins. It’s ultimately about marriage to God where the Bridegroom who wants his bride to “know” (yada’) him intimately, in a marriage that is “everlasting.”
Have we made Jesus’ payment for sin the main thing on the cross? Do we, like Jane Studdock, need to have our view of the cross “unmade?” If so, preparing to be presented as a pure virgin to our husband Jesus requires repenting of this. Lent is a season of penitence and preparation. It’s an appropriate time to repent.