Aman named Adam walks around half-naked in paradise. Having sinned and rejected God, he blames the woman who has been put there with him and the couple experience a sense of separation and shame. The woman’s desire is for her man and he rules over her.
This is an ancient story of devotion and deceit. But I’m not talking about the opening chapters of Genesis, I’m referring to a narrative that has been playing out across our TV screens this summer in the form of Love Island.
Even if you’ve chosen not to watch it, I’m sure the popularity of the reality show, in which gorgeous male and female contestants compete to find “true love” – and £50,000 – will not have escaped you. It’s all the tabloids and certain women’s magazines have wanted to talk about. Love it or loathe it, Love Island has captured the attention of our nation, attracting more than 3 million viewers and thereby becoming ITV2’s most watched show. But should Christians be watching programmes like this?
Love Island’s producers describe it as a modern-day dating show, a kind of Blind Date for the 21st Century.
But, in reality, it has more in common with The Hunger Games, where contestants devour one another for the public’s entertainment.
The problem many Christians have with watching fly-on-the-wall TV like this is its gratuitous nature. Everyone is unattainably attractive, they spend most of the time in barely there swimwear and play graphic and suggestive games to win prizes. The couples also engage in sexual activity at night, which is filmed by the many hidden cameras in the Spanish villa (although very little is actually witnessed as contestants are usually covered by their duvets).
Critics say it teaches a younger generation that casual sex is an acceptable and normal part of a relationship, that you’ll only experience love if you are one of the beautiful people and that unfaithfulness is an inevitable step on your journey to finding ‘the one’.
In many ways it is the epitome of what Paul describes in Romans: a sinful humanity that has turned its back on God. Paul explains the consequences of this kind of lifestyle: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is for ever praised” (Romans 1:24-25).
I admit that elements of Love Island are unsavoury. It’s not easy to watch people use and abuse each other and their own bodies. It’s shocking to see the pornification of our culture and the lengths women and men will go to in order to create the perfect bodies (for some contestants it’s estimated to be in the tens of thousands spent on cosmetic procedures). It’s easy to look at these people as fickle, vain and narcissistic Barbie and Ken dolls. But to dismiss and condemn them as superficial idolaters is to miss the compassionate love of God who desires a relationship with sinful humanity and who is willing to die for us in order to make that possible.
It has more in common with the hunger games than blind date
When I watched Adam Collard break Rosie Williams’ heart in episode 14, after she had given herself to him, emotionally and sexually, I couldn’t help but wonder what Rosie’s parents must be feeling. What it was like seeing the child they have loved, invested in, cared for and watched grow into a woman, dismissed and scorned. The Bible tells us that God is a father – much better than even the kindest earthly father – so, if Rosie’s dad was distressed seeing his daughter used and rejected, how much more does God’s heart break for his children, crying in anguish?
Rosie is not alone; many of the women on the show shared stories of being cheated on, dumped and left feeling worthless. The men also experienced loss, but it was of a different kind. Working so hard to look like men on the outside – with Adonis bodies of bronze – they had developed no sense of what it really means to be a man: a protector, carer, provider. They were missing out on the blessings of living their God-given identity.
A better story
As I watched Love Island this year (for those wondering how a Christian could possibly watch this show, see Rev Jules Middleton's blog) I was struck by just how many of the contestants were searching for happiness, and how far they were willing to go in pursuit of it. Wes, who was in a relationship with Laura, and for several episodes seemed to be very committed to her, said to another contestant: “I’m happy with Laura – probably the happiest in here – but who says I couldn’t be happier?”
Next, he sought to fill the longing in his heart by entering into a relationship with a different woman. But this woman, named Megan, subsequently had exactly the same thought process and decided to “re-couple” with Alex, who she felt was a better match, leaving Wes alone and heartbroken. Laura, whom Wes had dumped for Megan, was now “re-coupled” with Jack.
You’re not going to get something real if you’re always looking for more
All this chopping and changing of relationships was sparked by the “could I be happier?” question. It dogged many of the men and women in the villa over the eight weeks they were living together. It caused Rosie to angrily confront Adam, after his gaze had strayed once again. “You’re not going to get something real if you’re always looking for more,” she told him in an emotional scene as the couple ended their romance.
Only a relationship with Jesus will completely satisfy. He explains to the woman at the well, who has had many husbands, that he alone will quench her thirst for acceptance, significance and companionship: “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst” (John 4:14). Love Island’s contestants are searching for this eternal and fulfilling love, but they are looking in the wrong place.
Christians can demonstrate a better way by upholding a biblical view of marriage, modelled on sacrificial love and faithfulness. This, the Bible tells us, is a sign of the love Christ has for the Church (see Ephesians 5:25-32); marriage is therefore a powerful evangelistic tool. In our society, it is now common for people to be co-habiting, in a casual relationship or divorced. Solid, faithful, respectful and love-filled marriages speak volumes. They show our world that commitment is beautiful and that faith gives people the power to trust and invest in someone other than ourselves.
We can consign ourselves to the greatest matchmaker
It’s not just about marriage, either. Christians who are single also have an important message to share. Celibacy is not a sacrifice but a gift, one that protects us from the heartache of sexual intimacy without true fidelity. One that prevents us from dealing with the shame and pain of sexually contracted diseases or unplanned pregnancies. We can proclaim the freedom it engenders to be ourselves and to love others genuinely and without hidden motives. We can celebrate the time and space it provides to pursue all that life has to offer, rather than focusing solely and neurotically on finding love. As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians: “it is good…to stay unmarried” (1 Corinthians 7:8).
Jesus was the perfect model of the celibate man. He pursued friendships with men and women, not out of vested interest or selfish desire, but with the view of pointing them towards the God who loves them and wants what is best for them.
The truth is that by giving ourselves completely to God and asking him to guide our steps, we consign ourselves to the greatest matchmaker – the one who knows us intimately and who can see who would be a blessing to us as a life partner, if that is his plan for our lives. A Christian blueprint for relationships takes away the burden of feeling like we have to be perfect to attract someone, anyone, and reminds us that we just need to be ourselves to attract the one.
We have a better love story to tell
Whether you choose to watch programmes like Love Island is a matter of individual conscience. To quote from Romans again, Paul says: “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean” (14:14). Whether you wish to devote an hour every evening to a group of people living the life of luxury in Majorca is between you and God, but it’s what you do afterwards that matters.
In that sense, Love Island is a wake-up call for Christians. We have a responsibility to tell our world a better story: the greatest love story ever told. Before condemning sinful behaviour, we must first point to the perfect love that does ultimately satisfy. Love Island reminds us that there’s a thirsty world out there, and we’ve got good news to share.