Friday, 14 February 2014

The King of Romance

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

If any of the stories about Saint Valentine are to be believed, he would barely recognise how we celebrate the day that bears his name. As one recent meme puts it: ‘I was beaten with clubs, beheaded, buried under the cover of darkness, disinterred by my followers, and you commemorate my martyrdom by sending each other chocolates?’

So there I was yesterday, faced with racks of cards, a sea of red and pink hues. What to choose this year? Nah, too schmaltzy. Too gaudy. Too tacky. Way too tacky. I need something which communicates the perfect combination of desire, romance, fun, sensitivity, with a slight mischievous edge, while not taking itself too seriously. Is that too much to ask of a card? I’ve been married for over 20 years, so why doesn’t this get any easier?

But as I glance furtively around at my fellow browsers, to see who else is buying a card less than 12 hours before deadline, I wonder whether we’ve all been sucked into a giant vortex of mindless corporate consumption – so many possibilities, but still trapped into spending £2.79 to say ‘I love you’. It’s easy to become cynical. In all this, my mind switches to those who might feel the lack of a Significant Other – whether through death, divorce, relationship breakdown, force of circumstances, or choice. I’m probably thinking about this way too much, right?

Yet, the God of creation and redemption is big enough to embrace all of it – all the yearnings and aspirations of the heart, met and unmet. Whatever the changing fortunes of the relationship between marriage and love through history, mutual attraction and displays of affection are a gift from God’s hand, not merely evolutionary glue to help keep us together. What God has done for the world in Christ simultaneously makes sense of the couple’s delight in each other, but also offers grace to the celibate and comfort to the lonely.

That’s why Christians understand that such issues are best framed through the gospel – which puts God rather than us at the centre of the universe, which tells us that love involves the cost of sacrifice, seen supremely in Jesus, which calls us to see all our relationships as places where discipleship is worked out in everyday life, and which reminds us that the union between Christ and his people remains ultimate for all of us.

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