It seems to me that this is Bryd’s most profound work yet, reaching the core of the question she posed and addressed in Housewife Theologian: Why are women on the sidelines when there is so much to be gained by them joining the great conversation of the church? Her most recent book builds on her previous works, bringing us to the heart of the matter and then to worship. She tells us that as a church, we have failed to set our minds on things above when it comes to who we are as male and female. We have a “from-below,” horizontal approach to sexuality that focuses our identity on the mundane and impersonal categories of masculinity and femininity. She tells us that we have a man-centered view of ourselves, that lacks the glory ascribed to us in creation and by redemption. This is the background of her thesis, which she will support from the Song of Songs: man and woman point to something beyond and above themselves, something eternal.
Byrd’s refreshingly theological treatment of gender brings out that we not only represent God as he is one and many, but also his plan for humanity—to bring a chosen bride to a holy realm by means of a covenant head, that she might forever delight in him, and he in her. Our goal is not global dominion (theonomic patriarchy), nor to magnify masculine strength over feminine nurture (biblicistic complementarianism), nor to promote our gender over and against our neighbor’s (idolatrous feminism or androcentrism), but rather to magnify God and all he has prepared for them that love him. As Byrd brings out, whether it is the androgyny promoted by our culture, or a genderism which polarizes male and female and makes little of all that we share as “mankind” (which is alot), Byrd reminds us that our bodies tell a story which brings all his people, male and female, to the same end, union and communion with the triune God. To the degree that we make gender about who has power over whom in our horizontal relationships here and now, we show that we have lost touch with our Head, the Shepherd-king of the Song of Songs.
Byrd points out that whether it is the idolatry of gender manifest “out there” in secular culture, or the idolatry “in here,” the conservative evangelical church, we lose what God is telling us through the two ways of being human, male and female. There is a story being told through our ensouled bodies, one that magnifies the essence and work of the triune God. As Bryd puts us, our meaningfulness is found in that great story. We represent God in his unity and diversity, as well as his unfolding works in creation and providence. We represent his master plan to bring heaven and earth together, that we might glorify and enjoy him forever. The patriarchalists want to make the differences between male and female about the Creator-creature distinction, yet the testimony of the Word points to the man as the symbol of the earth pressing to consummation in Sabbath rest, and the woman as the symbol of heavenly Mt. Zion, the realm of that rest. Byrd calls us to see beyond stereotypes that fix our “roles” in the here and now, to the heart of the matter. She wants us to start singing the right song, one that “enfleshes the whole story of Scripture.”
Byrd says the Song of Songs is the superlative song because it sings us to our eshcatological hope. The bride of the Song teaches us why we sing at all. We sing to learn about who we are as the bride of Christ who has entered the king’s chambers, the Holy of Holies, to unite and commune with the Lover of our souls. There we are blissfully naked again because our groom has taken away our shame at the cross and clothed us with his glorious righteousness. In his chamber (the mother’s house), the burning desire of our hearts will be met. We will drink deeply and forever receive promised satisfaction (John 4).
Byrd then speaks about how the Song unveils the woman as heavenly Zion, the eschatological city, by pointing to the parallels she shares with earthly sacred space—the garden, tabernacle, temple, and earthly Jerusalem: mountain and streams, cedars and spices, fruits and flowers, gazelle, ewe, and dove. In Byrd’s words, “All that is beautiful in the natural world consummates in the bride, transformed by Christ, who has brought her from an outcast in Song of Songs 1 to queen in Song of Songs 3. Not only is she beautiful, she is strength embodied, a lofty fortress with ramparts and towers and walls. The bride makes the beauty and strength of that invisible city visible, helping us to set our minds on things above, where Christ waits among the lilies, the saints made perfect. Byrd reminds us that this is why we need the Song here and now. In the Song the themes of exile, absence, longing, and hesitancy are present. We need the Song so that we might persevere until the city descends, envelopes, and transforms all things on earth, conforming us to the holiness of our eternal habitation. We need the Song to ignite our hope as we reach the finish line (which is why I am hoping Byrd continues her meditations on the Song and we get a Volume 2).
Finally, Byrd speaks about how our typology fuels our communion not only in marriage but in the church. When we see ourselves in terms of what we represent, whether earth in its heavenward press (Adam, Second Adam), or heaven itself (Eve, the sphere of life-givingness), there could be new dynamism among us. This new understanding of ourselves might lead to greater fruit in our relationships with one another, as we are newly empowered by God’s truth to love and esteem our neighbor. Men as types of earth pressing heavenward in strength can sacrificially give themselves to protect and empower others (not lord over); women can take their unique glory to direct eyes heavenward (not themselves), as we all sing “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me . . . Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spice.” SoS 7:10; 8:14, cf. Rev. 22:17, 20).
In all, Byrd would have us see the triune God as our blessedness and reward. She wants us to celebrate what Christ has accomplished in doing what the first Adam failed to do, unite heaven and earth. We live in the hope of the city to be unveiled when it descends to envelop and transform all things on earth, conforming us to the holiness of our eternal city. Then it will be most truly said, “He has become our God and we have become his people.” All creation, most especially his image-bearers whom he has set apart as the crown of his creation, are a theater for the glorious consummation that is coming. Byrd invites us to use the gift of our gender to imagine that world: heaven joined to earth, Christ wed to his people, in one word, consummation. She is asking us to join our voice with the voice of the bride of the Song, and sing with her until the day breaks and the shadows flee.