Perhaps the most avid and trustworthy Christian blogger in the English language today is Tim Challies. He recently wrote an article on a husband’s love for the physical body of a wife’s post-partum body. His point is that marital love is matured through a shared life story, including the changes in our physical bodies due to pregnancy and childbirth.
The reality is that true marital love does indeed include all the beatings this world dishes out. It is true that the physical love of each other’s bodies remains even when the bodies are not what they once were.
Besides the shared story that is told by our ageing bodies, there is yet another point that the Scriptures make on loving an ageing spouse. Scripture describes the physical love that exists in marriage primarily in terms of a love for the person and his/her body. The body can change, but because the person stays the same, the love for the body remains even if it is forever morphing. This is in contrast to the world which emphasises the body of a person more than the person of the body in sexual attraction.
Sexual immorality is a desire for a body more than a person, while physical intimacy in marriage is a desire for the person and that person’s body.
Throughout the Scriptures, sexual love is described in terms exclusive to one’s spouse. The person, whom you love as your spouse, defines your love for his/her body more than the body, of the one you love, defines your love for him/her.
That is the contrast made at the end of Proverbs 5. Don’t fall in love with sexual pleasure, for it will destroy. Rather seek sexual pleasure from the body of the one whom you married when you both were young (Pro 5:15-20).
You might even have read The Song of Solomon, and thought that it is because of the physical appearances that the love portrayed in the book is so intense, enthusiastic, and pleasurable. But when you read it a little more closely, you find a personal love that explains the physical love more than a physical love that explains the personal love.
Twenty-six times in The Song, the most common title for each other is given as “my beloved”. The loved each other in many ways according to The Song, not the least of which is their overt physical love for each other’s bodies. But that does not mean that each spouse had the ideal body; it means each spouse an the ideal love—the love for a person.
The personal focus of The Song of Solomon is stated explicitly in the more quotable parts of The Song (SoS 2:16; 6:3; 7:10), but it is also found in the chapters dedicated to the physical descriptions of each other’s bodies. The wife did not have that marital love perspective of her own body, and therefore she considered herself less attractive (SoS 1:6), but the husband had a completely different appreciation for her body. In chapter 4 the husband looks at his wife’s body and describes each part in great metaphoric detail, but look beyond the body parts and metaphors, and you will find the personal, feminine*, pronoun “your”. Go, underline all the “your” pronouns in chapter 4, and you will see it too. This is a very personal poem from a husband to the one whom he loves so dearly.
The same is true in chapter 5 where it is the wife describing her love for the body of her husband. She does it in the third person, and so the personal pronoun is obviously masculine, but the point remains. Again, see past the body parts and metaphors, and take note of all the “his” pronouns in the last half of chapter 5.
How do you therefore love an ageing spouse? The same way you were supposed to love them when you both were a whole lot younger. Find delight in your spouse’s body, because it is the body of your spouse. Yes, our ageing bodies tell of a shared story, for it also tells of a shared love.
* Because the second person personal pronoun “you” is the same for masculine and feminine, the gender is not distinguishable in English, as it is in Hebrew and other similar languages. The third person personal pronoun “he, she, it” does differentiate between gender, and this is obvious in chapter 5 as mentioned above.