To Ravish or Not to Ravish?

June 22, 2012

“The more we enjoy of God, the more we are ravished with delight.”
Thomas Watson
“He cannot ravish; He can only woo.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

In my post on Tuesday I raised the question of using the word “ravish” in a worship song. It’s a word that is “in vogue” these days.  There are many current Christian songwriters who refer often to our being ravished by the love of God or of God being ravished with love for us. A search on Song Select pulled up almost 40 songs that orbit around two ideas; we desire to be or have been ravished by God or God is ravished by desire for us.

Yesterday I mentioned the word ravish is used only twice in scripture.  Once in Song of Solomon 4:9 and once in Proverbs 5:19. Both times this word is referring to overwhelming romantic love The Hebrew words here suggest intoxication or excitement. (The NAS translates the word as exhilarate in Proverbs.)  While there are different words in Hebrew for rape, unfortunately the most commonly used translations alternate between rape and ravish which can be found in Jud. 20:5; Is. 13:16; Lam. 5:11; Zec. 14:2.  One thing is certain, the word as we have it in our language is rooted in sexual violence:

ravish (v.) Look up ravish at Dictionary.comc.1300, “to seize (someone) by violence, carry (a person, especially a woman) away,” from O.Fr. raviss-, prp. stem of ravir “to seize, take away hastily,” from V.L. *rapire, from L.rapere “to seize, hurry away”  Meaning “to commit rape upon” is recorded from mid-15c. – Online Etymology Dictionary  (See also Merriam-Webster)

While no songwriter within the church would be using this word in that sense, a poet doesn’t have to go far to get there. Consider John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV:

Yet dearly’ I love You,’and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto Your enemy.
Divorce me,’untie or break that knot again;
Take me to You, imprison me, for I
Except You ‘enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.

Donne reaches for the idea, be it ever so poetically, that unless forcibly carried off he will never be free from his bondage. The illusion to rape here is not forced on the text. The word play between “chaste” and “ravish” is obvious. English Professor Craig Payne says of the sonnet:

“So the strategy of the poem appears to be that of approaching a dangerous, blasphemous anthropomorphism in the heat of devotion, but deflecting that danger, just in time, by the equation of sensual passion to spiritual virtue…  By the poem’s conclusion, the conceit of the rape which ensures chastity no longer skirts blasphemy. In fact, in Donne’s hands, it even becomes orthodox, an ideal of devotion worthy of emulation.”

The fine line that often gets blurred between spirituality and sensuality is one that we need to be aware of. When deception is the key component of Satan’s attack against believers, the admonition to be sober-minded needs to be sounded. There is a dark thread that runs through our fallen world in regards to sexuality. Pornographers rake in millions by catering to the rape fantasies of men but before we utter “duh”, as if it’s peculiar to them, consider that currently the top three fiction best sellers in the New York Times are the Darker Shade trilogy of books by E. L. James. Highly erotic and focused on dominance and control, booksellers can’t keep them in stock and women are the primary readers by far.

While the origin of the word ”ravish” and it’s current usage frequently align depending on the ”literature” you read, it is fair to admit that over the years the word has come to be associated with over whelming desire, delight and passion. You find it in writings by R.C. Sproul, John Piper and Martyn Lloyd-Jones as well as many Puritan authors including Thomas Watson and Jonathan Edwards. Indeed the word seems to be a favorite of Spurgeon! It’s understandable why it’s popular in songs. Great hymn writers of the past such as Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley have incorporated it. The word is used in one of my favorite hymns, ”Come and Welcome Sinners.” The words were written by Thomas Haweis in 1792. Matthew Perryman Jones set it to new music and it was included on the Indelible Grace CD, “Beams of Heaven.”

So why make a deal about it at all? Simply because the fine line exists.  Because we live in a day when experience is worshiped over truth, in a society that is overwhelmingly preoccupied with eroticism, where gender lines are being obliterated and where wolves are on the prowl to exploit the vulnerable. I’m simply advocating that we be careful, thoughtful and aware that we cannot simply plumb the depths of the heart without firmly rooting the mind in God’s unchanging truth. As I said in the previous post: “It’s current usage in our dictionaries (and I will include here, “romantic” literature)  is overwhelmingly negative and should at least cause us to consider our use of it.”






6 responses to To Ravish or Not to Ravish?

  1. Well said, Jeff. A fellow pastor/musician once told me that John Wimber described Vineyard’s worship music as the church’s bedroom music. I understand that (especially from the Righteous Brothers’ former keyboard player!)…but I also stop short of singing about heaven’s “sloppy wet kiss.” Your call to sensitivity needs to be heard.

    • Thanks for commenting Tim. Good to hear from you. The church’s “bedroom music” – It’s one of those “I get it” but “don’t go there” statements. God bless John – he wrote some good ones.

  2. While I tend to agree with you Jeff The problem is that this word really has two opposite definitions like other words that we use or have used throughout time :

    to engage in sexual activity and especially intercourse with a person unwilling or unable to give consent
    Synonyms assault, force, outrage, ravish, violate
    Related Words date rape; gang rape; molest; paw; defile, deflower
    to fill with overwhelming emotion (as wonder or delight)
    Synonyms carry away, enrapture, enthrall (or enthral), rap, rapture, ravish, transport
    Related Words delight, gladden, gratify, please, satisfy; bewitch, captivate, charm, enchant, fascinate; elate, excite, exhilarate, stir

    • Thanks Bruce, that’s basically what the post states. I recognize that it has both meanings. What I urge is caution and thoughtfulness about how we write for the church, especially in a day that is as soaked in sensuality as ours is. We need a pause button pressed for a bit and some serious reflection be given to the “Jesus as my Lover” types of songs that are floating around. That is a bigger concern that whether or not the word ravished is used. As I said – it is – by many whom I respect.

  3. off the subject where are you that it is 6:35 PM

    • lol – thanks for the heads up! My time was set wrong in the WordPress settings. Weird! Think I’m on the right clock now!