Sweet 2016… and still looking for love

It was W.S. Gilbert, of the musical duo Gilbert and Sullivan, who first observed, “It’s love that makes the world go round.” He might have penned the line for the comic opera Iolanthe but the sentiment is anything but a laughing matter. Humans often live and have frequently died in the name of love – but are we any closer to understanding it? 133 years after Gilbert’s words and, to borrow another songwriter’s phrase, one look at this year’s television schedule suggests we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

Of course it’s not the first year Australian networks have gambled on love to make the ratings go round. The Nine Network is currently airing its ninth season of Farmer Wants A Wife, suggesting love will always overcome the city-country divide. In April, Nine will also bring back Married At First Sight, in which contestants say “I do” and then work out whether that’s enough to keep them together. Network Ten is also airing its fourth season of The Bachelor. Like a modern take on King Xerxes in the book of Esther, the show offers a harem of potential wives to a well-to-do man who goes on intimate dates until he discovers the one who pleases him best. Ten has also committed to a second season of The Bachelorette in 2016 where the roles are reversed. Even the ABC is replacing past series like Making Couples Happy with the comedy investigation Luke Warm Sex. However it’s the Seven Network that seems most committed to love.

In 2016 Seven will introduce three new programs, each pushing a particular perspective on love. Straight off the block is First Dates where men and women agree to go on a blind date in Seven’s romantic restaurant. The staff play cupid, doing their best to stir in equal amounts of interest and jealousy as newly minted couples get to know each other. Love is a word participants clearly associate with a serious relationship. What seasons the romance though is the rational evaluation: what does this prospective partner bring to the table? Are they good looking? Do they have a steady job? Will they match my personality? According to First Dates, love is the result of carefully sifting the choices to discover the perfect fit.

If candle-lit dinners fail to find love then Seven is hoping desperation will serve. The network recently released the Australian version of Seven Year Switch. “Seven years marks a point in many marriages when couples find themselves restless and dissatisfied; and some even wonder what it would be like if they had picked a different spouse,” according to the show’s US producers.

Four struggling couples agree to test that theory. Seven Year Switch is an upgraded version of Wife Swap where participants move into a new home and share the bed of someone who isn’t their partner. This “switch therapy” is pitched as a last-ditch effort to save a relationship that has reached breaking point. The hope is these “experimental marriages” will rekindle the magic the original couples once shared – or start something new altogether. Though trialling a new partner might drive couples back into each other’s arms, Seven Year Switch is still likely to sow seeds of distrust to be reaped for years to come.

Seven is placing its final bet on the seemingly timeless suggestion that sex gives birth to love. Kiss Bang Love’s title tells you everything you need to know. Ten single Australians will be matched up with 15 potential suitors. The would-be lover is then blindfolded and kisses each of the prospects. The blindfold comes off for a repeat performance with the best five, and the contestant’s final choice will then spend the night with them in a luxury hotel. Seven’s done its best to maintain a serious face for what amounts to televised sex by suggesting an unnamed study has found that the average person kisses 15 people and has two one-night stands before falling in love. This dubious truth underlines Kiss Bang Love’s premise: love requires physical gratification.

According to Seven, love is selective, love is arousing – it does not settle for less than satisfaction, so it keeps no record of those it sleeps with or hurts along the way.

By contrast the Bible points us to a love that is fundamentally selfless, bears with rejection and seeks a union so profound it surpasses even sex. It talks about couples who submit themselves to each other’s needs, who use their love to cover over a multitude of sins, who use sex to reach the real goal of becoming one flesh. I think the world’s concepts of love are poor, anaemic things by comparison.

Too often Christians tut-tut over poorly informed programmes and waste their time telling unbelievers what love really looks like. This might increase their appetite but it runs the risk of making TV’s own mistake: pitching love as a formula. Love is not the result of a carefully followed plan but the revelation of a person: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16).

You can’t have real love without God, only its reflection. In fact the power to produce true love comes from the Spirit Jesus places within those who first give themselves to him: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him … We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:9,19).

So love does in fact make the world go around, even though the world does not know him by that name. But the world has got it right in holding that love rises from the perfect relationship – it’s just not the relationship they’re thinking about.