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The Biebers, Valentines and returning to our first love

What can a whirlwind celebrity romance teach us about faith and love?

Last summer singer-songwriter Justin Bieber caused waves after he proposed to Hailey Baldwin, 22-year-old model and niece of American actor Alec Baldwin, after only four weeks of dating. They got married just eight weeks later.

In a cover-shoot and interview for Vogue, which was released last week, the couple shared views that seem a world away from the values in Hollywood. Bieber, for example, said that his and Baldwin’s faith is at the heart of their commitment to each other, in what was a whirlwind romance and marriage. In the interview, they didn’t airbrush the realities of what marriage is and the affect that their own brokenness can have on their relationship.

In my view, they are an anomaly. Leaving the (potentially legitimate) queries of their wisdom aside, they are undeniably counter-cultural. Pop songs, and celebrity culture generally, tend to celebrate love, but the non-committal kind, disproportionately dominated by odes on break-ups, heartaches and short-term gratification. 

And perhaps these messages can influence people’s behaviour. The 24-year-old musician has arguably had the most influence on children and teenagers over the last decade. With more than 100 million followers on Instagram and in excess of 18 billion collective views on YouTube, Bieber has an enormous fan base. 

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Then, if we look at a 2018 report by the BBC, where the news broadcaster revealed that there has been an ongoing decline in marriage rates since the early 1970s, we might question further the effect of perverted ideas about love, though we appreciate the complexities around the relationship between values and culture. 

Young people today are often described as individualistic, and the declining marriage rates would seem to correlate with this. But, I believe there is more to the picture. We’re growing up in a world that is increasingly secular, globalised and flooded with bad news, so perhaps what we (and humanity in general) seek is security, with the hope of romantic love at a particular stage in our lives. 

A study carried out in the USA showed that 70 per cent of millennials indicated that they would like to get married. They just appear to be putting it off until they’re older, when other things, such as a career and a degree of financial stability, are in place, to safeguard against breakdown. And, honestly, are people in this age group to blame?

With these changing cultural trends, as a young adult myself, if I’m honest, I’m not completely sure what to conclude. But, it does encourage me to consider the church in the UK and our relationship with the God who seeks after a people to become His bride, His beloved, cherished by Him. God is after a people whose identity is not defined by the safety or security of the things around them, or even their own strength, but by His Son, Jesus. 

Theologian and writer C.S. Lewis said: To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

In his interview, Bieber’s broken past is detailed with no sugar-coating; he spoke about drug abuse and sexual immorality. He also shared his more recent rededication to God. His life and this couple’s romance are extremes, but it made me think about the extremity of Hosea and his love for Gomer, and implicitly us as a church. 

For most, our rebellion won’t literally resemble that of Gomer to Hosea, but on a metaphorical level what unfaithfulness to God looks like is much wider. In Revelation 2:1 – 7, the church is commended for excelling in its actions, but are rebuked for one thing, their love for God: But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4).

I wonder if, this Valentine’s Day, that first love you had for Jesus is there. Whether your heart rejoices in He who is the lover of your soul. I know I’d lost the rawness and vulnerability of being close to Jesus, tying myself up in a web of good works’ but, in reality, running from intimacy with the One I was made for. 

I’d always struggled to understand Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet instead of doing what Martha had done. Or, when David wrote of dwelling with God it just didn’t resonate with me. Something about doing’ for Jesus came easier to me than being’ with Him. On the outside, like the church in Revelation, it looked great, but on the inside, it was deadly, and He knew it.

So, this Valentine’s Day, are you fixing your eyes on your first love? Will you sit with Him, speak with Him, listen to Him today? Because it is only with and in Him that any of us will have the hope, peace and fullness of life that we crave, and that He has promised.

I was tapped on the shoulder last night.

When we mess up in the world, we’re sometimes thrown to the side and abandoned. Second chances don’t come easy.

And so, when we mess up with God, we can often expect the same.

We start to walk away before rejection and abandonment come; but as we turn, we feel a gentle tap on our shoulder and a soft, loving voice from behind saying, Where do you think you’re going?’

With a surprising, unmerited, and undeserving embrace, we are reminded that He has promised to love us with an everlasting love – despite our mistakes, imperfections and shortcomings.

God tapped my shoulder last night.”

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