“My dove is my only one, perfect and mine.” – Song of Songs 6:9
In the Book of Exodus we learn something about God – a name of God in fact – that seems strange to us: “You will worship no other god, since Yahweh’s name is the Jealous One; he is a jealous God” (Ex. 34:14).
Today, jealousy is seen solely as something negative, undesirable. It almost always signals possessiveness, insecurity, suspicion, and a lack of trust. Jealousy destroys relationships, indeed, suffocates them.
So how can God be the “Jealous One”? He is the Jealous One because he wants my everything. He wants me, not just part of me, but all of me – total, exclusive, undivided.
Yet, it is truly me that he wants. He wants my all, but it is my all. He wants me to give myself totally to him – to hold nothing back of myself for myself, as St. Francis of Assisi exhorts. But this complete giving of myself to him never means the annihilation of me or of my freedom; it is the highest expression of my freedom. It is not the kind of possessiveness that suffocates, but that sets free. To become one with him, to permeate him and be permeated by him, to melt with him (or, in St. Teresa of Avila’s words, to be dissolved in him) never means losing myself. I do not disappear, but become most fully me in the surrender.
Anyone who has ever really fallen in love knows something of this jealousy. We don’t want to be merely part, even the better or best part, but all. Yes, we long for the same kind of love from those we love that God desires from us. And yet, the truth remains that all earthly love is divided. While we may desire this kind of love from one another, we know that it is too much to demand. It is beyond human capabilities. Perhaps this is a limitation of life in time. Perhaps only God can love this way because he is “I Am.”
Marriage bears the greatest resemblance to this “jealous love” in our earthly experience, because it is a sign and sacrament of it. Even if it is intrinsically imperfect, limited, and divided, the love my wife and I have for each other most epitomizes this desire to be someone’s everything. We even say things to each other like, “You’re my everything!” and “You’re my world!” And it’s true – we really mean it. I am totally hers, whole and entire. And she is mine. We know that our love is that force, that energy that animates and inspires life and gives it meaning. It is the substance of everything we do and experience (“substance” literally means “that which stands under”). This is because Love Itself is the Source from which this giving of my wife and me springs; our love is an irradiation of Love (see St. John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 14:4, 16:1). Our love plunges us into the depths of The Great Mystery (see Eph. 5:32; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 221).
St. Augustine is alleged to have said that “God loves each of us as if there were only us.” It is not enough for me to know that I am loved totally by God, just like everyone else. That isn’t what my heart seeks. I want to be the “only one.” I want God’s all, and to be his all. My heart seeks exclusivity. No, it must be that God loves everyone exclusively and not just totally.
In my opinion, The Song of Songs – which in both Jewish and Christian tradition is often interpreted allegorically as the love between God (the Bridegroom) and the soul (the bride) – sheds light here. The bridegroom in The Song states, “My dove is my only one, perfect and mine” (6:9). If I am the bride in The Song, then I can indeed say that I am God’s “only one.” The verse that immediately precedes this one sets up a contrast that throws this truth into greater relief. It must be a divine prerogative to be able to love each and every person exclusively, in an undivided way. Yes, I am God’s “only one”! And so are you. Somehow, this subtle difference between God loving each of us totally and loving each of exclusively makes all the difference.
I truly believe that one day we will experience this Undivided Love, this exclusivity for which our hearts yearn – to be someone’s everything, whole life, single purpose and raison d’être. This is heaven. This is beatitude. Only God can really give it.
Yet earthly marriage is its pre-cursor, its sign, its sacrament. If we are blessed with a marriage that is everything it is supposed to be, then when we get to heaven we should get the feeling that we have been there before.