Patsy Rae Dawson
Jeanne Guyon's popular book, Song of the Bride, reprinted from the 17th century, is a tragic irony of the Song of Solomon rather than a true commentary. Whitaker House published both her autobiography written in her later years along with her discussion of the Song of Solomon. The publisher's introduction to the Song of Solomon acknowledges that her allegorical view of the book is in many ways:
A picture of the growth of her own relationship with God, of her devotion to Him in the midst of the losses, illnesses, trials, and persecutions that she endured throughout her life. (Song of the Bride, p. 8.)
Indeed, reading her autobiography first makes it obvious that the Song of the Bride is simply Guyon's earlier autobiography of her own spiritual journey.
Guyon Suffered as a Victim of Spouse Abuse
Unfortunately, Guyon's portrayal of her life is an antithesis to the beautiful message of the Song of Solomon, which she misses totally. The Song of Solomon tells the true story of the Shulammite, a young maiden probably 11-16 years old. She was wooed by the powerful, rich King Solomon who admired her beautiful body and wanted to add her to his harem. The Shulammite struggled throughout the story with whether to marry for flattery, money, and power, or marry for true love that respected her as an intelligent and worthwhile person. Again and again, the story reveals her inner struggles as her mother's teaching and upbringing guided her into making a wise decision. God preserved the account to protect all young women and men in their search for true love.
Yet unhappily, Jeanne Guyon, a French Catholic, followed the opposite course, and she never learned the secrets of the Song of Solomon. She, too, was a beautiful young maiden with lots of suitors who offered her money and prestige. Instead of helping her find true love by wisely choosing a mate, at barely 15, her father tricked her into marrying a man 22 years older than she whom she did not know.
Her husband forced her to spend whole days with his mother, who lived with them and who continually degraded her both privately and publicly. Guyon wrote:
She found the secret of extinguishing my vivacity and rendering me stupid. Some of my former acquaintances hardly knew me. Those who had not seen me before said, "Is this the person famed for such abundance of wit? She can't say two words. She is a fine picture." I was not yet sixteen years old. I was so intimidated that I did not dare go out without my mother-in-law, and in her presence I could not speak. I did not know what I said, so much fear I had. (An Autobiography, pp. 33-34.)
The mother-in-law incited her son to also browbeat Guyon. This dual abuse caused her to quickly advance through the normal stages of becoming a desperate wife who fights for both emotional and spiritual survival. Prior to her marriage, she devoured romances. After marriage she said, "I laid aside the reading of romances, for which I lately had such a fondness. Novels appeared then to me only full of lies and deceit." She put away all books and endeavored to "offend God no more." (Autobiography, p. 35.) This disillusionment and self-blame by trying to correct her faults to stop the abuse is typical in the battered-spouse syndrome.
In spite of her efforts to be perfect, Guyon lamented, "My crosses redoubled [as my mother-in-law would] break out in anger about the smallest trifles, and scarcely be pacified for a fortnight." The mother-in-law's actions were typical of advanced batterers who cannot be pleased no matter how hard the victim tries. Guyon acknowledged, "[I] used a part of my time in bewailing myself when I could be alone, and my grief became every day more bitter."
Characteristically of victims, Guyon rapidly lost her sense of self as she struggled to survive as a person:
Such stunning blows so impaired the vivacity of my nature, that I became like a lamb that is shorn. I prayed to our Lord to assist me, and He was my refuge….One day, weighed down with grief and in despair, but six months after I was married, being alone, I was tempted even to cut out my tongue so I might no longer irritate those who seized every word I uttered with rage and resentment.
But You, O God, did stop me short and showed me my folly. I prayed continually, and wished even to become dumb, so simple and ignorant was I. Through I have had my share of crosses, I have never found any so difficult to support as that of perpetual contrariety, without relaxation of doing all one can to please, and without succeeding, but still offending by the very means designed to oblige. Being kept with such people, in a most severe confinement, from morning till night, without ever daring to quit them, is most difficult. I have found that great crosses overwhelm and stifle all anger. Such a continual contrariety irritates and stirs up sourness in the heart. It has such a strange effect, that it requires the utmost efforts of self-restraint not to break out into vexation and rage. (Autobiography, pp. 35-36.)
Then Guyon said what many see in abused wives: "My condition in marriage was more like that of a slave than of a free person." (Autobiography, p. 36.)
In fighting for emotional survival, victims of abuse often either reject God by blaming him for all their abuse or turn more firmly toward obeying God. Guyon both blamed God for her abuse and also turned to extreme religiosity to glorify the abuse as she said:
"But You, O my God, opened my eyes to see things in a very different light. I found in You reasons for suffering, which I had never found in man. I afterward saw clearly and reflected with joy that this conduct, as unreasonable as it seemed and as mortifying as it was, was quite necessary for me." (Autobiography, p. 37.)
Thus, as a 15-year-old wife, Guyon reached some desperate conclusions on how to survive the abuse of both her husband and mother-in-law. Basically, she made two important decisions that formed the rest of her life and colored her teaching, including the Song of Solomon: (1) She viewed God as constantly punishing her to perfect her, and she concluded that suffering was the only way to really serve God and win his love. As a result, she gloried in her suffering, especially in her earlier years. Her portrayal of the Song of Solomon revealed her struggle with trying to overcome her pride in bearing "her crosses." (2) To support this premise, she tried to imitate an oversimplified view of the suffering of Jesus upon the cross, which ignored the strength of his life in confuting sin in others. Even on the night of his betrayal, Jesus rebuked the High Priest and the guard who smote him. Her distorted view of suffering lacked the balance of the reality of Jesus' life.
The course that Jeanne Guyon chose for herself of just standing and silently taking abuse amounted to participating in the sins of others by enabling their continued mistreatment of her. Indeed, her mute response condemned her to greater disrespect and mistreatment throughout the rest of her life. As is common in abusive families, her son learned to openly revile her because of the unchallenged behavior of his father and grandmother.
Guyon Made Common Interpretation Mistakes
Abuse always gets worse if the victim timidly submits to it, which happened to Guyon. She justified the escalating abuse by her misinterpretation of the Song of Solomon and used it to "prooftext" her own warped thinking about enduring abuse in the home. As her mistreatment increased over the years, she read into the inspired story levels of increasing abuse to win the bridegroom's love and devotion.
She failed to interpret imagery according to other scriptures, and inconsistently used it to suit her own design. For example, she used the word "mother" to convey Wisdom who bore her (Song of the Bride, p. 156), next the Divine Essence or Holy Trinity (Song, pp. 179-182), then representative of the Catholic doctrine of the total depravity of babies who are born as a result of the mother's sin in conception (Song, pp. 186-187), and finally of herself as bearing fruit for God by teaching others to embrace a life of suffering (Song, p. 191). Guyon's own mother was a disappointment who abused her in her own way, and she never experienced the wisdom of a loving mother who helped her daughter find true love.
Likewise, she used the words breasts, neck, hair, wine, lilies, watchmen, and daughters of Jerusalem inconsistently as they suited her purpose rather than reflecting God's consistency. And her ignorance of how a successful shepherd takes care of his flocks caused her to miss the significance of some of the shepherd passages.
A lack of understanding Bible-times expressions helped her totally miss Solomon's two lewd remarks of comparing the Shulammite to mares in heat confusing the stallions pulling Pharoah's war chariots and of describing her sexual charms as the Orientals' custom of climbing palm trees to fertilize them.
In spite of the publisher's promise on the backcover that Guyon, "without embarrassment for King Solomon's intimate portrayal of the lovers…," she totally ignored all passages relating to lovemaking and transformed them into opportunities for suffering or teaching others how to suffer. She referred to the kiss in Song of Solomon 1:2 as the only physical intimacy and went back to it in her conclusion.
In addition, Guyon's lack of knowledge of Bible-times wedding customs caused her to overlook the wedding procession from Jerusalem to the groom's home in the country, the riddle during the marriage feast about the little sister who was too young for love, and the climax of the ceremony by the bridegroom asking the bride to say, "I do," before witnesses.
Guyon Claimed God Spoke Through Her
All of Jeanne Guyon's mistakes are made worse by her claim to be a mystic, someone to whom God spoke directly. Thus, she was encouraged in her beliefs by assuming they came directly from God. She advised her readers to watch for this process:
The soul who watches for its God experiences a state in which, although its exterior appears dead and, as it were, stunned and benumbed like a body in a deep sleep, its heart still constantly retains a hidden vigor that preserves it in union with God. Those souls who are far advanced frequently experience, in addition, a very surprising thing. Often, during the night, they are only half asleep, so to speak, and God seems to operate more powerfully in them in the night and during sleep than during the day [emphasis mine-PRD]. (Song, p. 110.)
Guyon described a natural phenomenon of the brain during the night that gives rise to creativity and understanding that a person might not reason out during the day. Instead of recognizing the efficiency of the brain and how to develop these insights, many people falsely assert that God is speaking directly to them.
Maxwell Maltz explained in his book Psycho-Cybernetics how the mind works this way. The subconscious stores all the events and information collected during the day as memory. Then during sleep, while the body rests, the subconscious goes to work and begins filing the bits of information in the various mental filing cabinets. The subconscious doesn't use the conscious mind's logic, but tries many different categories to find the right file folder. This results in some unique combinations of data and is why many people wake in the night or early in the morning with a brilliant idea that, if they don't jot it down, they lose it forever.
This is a natural creative process that many people learn to tap into and use for problem solving. However, other individuals recognize that they wouldn't have these thoughts during the day if they tried to come up with a novel idea, and they falsely believe that God must be talking directly to them. Thus, they take a wonder of the mind that God created, and assign their own creative process to God and never question and refine those thoughts and insights.
Hence, many people who assert that God speaks through them usually fail to use their God-given logic to sort out the nighttime good ideas from the silly and the false. Jeanne Guyon urged her readers to interpret this natural process as God speaking to them even when it contradicted God's own words in the Bible.
Guyon's Song of the Bride Is Not a Commentary
Jeanne Guyon's book, Song of the Bride, is not a commentary on the Song of Solomon. Rather, it is an autobiographical description of the inner struggles of a desperate wife to emotionally and spiritually survive the abuse of her husband and mother-in-law when her own upbringing and the Catholic Church left her without resources to protect herself. God's love for abused women cries out against this warped interpretation of his beautiful Song of Solomon that he preserved to guide both men and women in choosing a lifelong sexual partner.
How sad! What a tragic irony that one 15-year-old maiden would manipulate the true story of another young woman's success in finding true love to justify her own abuse at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law! Jeanne Guyon deserves our pity because she suffered contrary to God's word about love and marriage and about standing up to abuse as Jesus did when he rebuked the High Priest and the soldier who struck him.
References written by Jeanne Guyon (1648-1717):
- Jeanne Guyon: An Autobiography. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1997.
- Song of the Bride. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1997.
Want more information? See:
- The Song of Solomon FAQ
- Song of Solomon: The Shulammite's Dilemma
- The Song of Solomon Love Triangle: God's Soulmating and Lovemaking Guide for a Lifetime of Passionate Sex
For more resources, see: