50 Shade of Love

Photo Credit: Doane Gregory

50 Shades Freed—the third installment of the infamous trilogy that began with 50 Shades of Grey (2015)—is being eviscerated by critics.

The first film traded on its transgressive concept. But a mainstream movie series pushing the boundaries of danger and erotic acceptability struggles to find itself when the third film begins with the protagonists getting married.

While most of us long for a happy, stable, committed relationship, the routines of marriage are seldom the stuff of movies. Yet as much as this third film is apparently poorly executed—and I have no desire to watch it or its forerunners—the idea of this awkward move from transgressive eroticism to marriage can teach us something about the human condition. It is perhaps something those of us who identify as Christians, and rightly champion marriage as the only context for sex, will hesitate to acknowledge: marriage is ultimately unsatisfying.

Marriage Is Not Meant to Fully Satisfy

Stay with me for a moment here. This is not heresy, but an orthodoxy that Christians have embraced for thousands of years. Like a sketch compared to the real painting, a doll to a real baby, or a toy car to an actual Tesla, marriage at its best hints toward the greater reality. It is designed to leave us in some sense unsatisfied.

Marriage at its best hints toward the greater reality. It is designed to leave us in some sense unsatisfied.

This longing for something more—someone other—can often lead us into the wreckage of sin. But at its root, the feeling of dissatisfaction stems from a deeper desire that no mere human can satisfy. When we look for a mortal solution (perhaps I married the wrong person?) we ruin the good gift we have. But when we look to our immortal Lover, the good we have in marriage deepens and becomes better, because it is part of a larger love story.

Part of us longs for intimacy with someone who is eternally fascinating. But no mere human can sustain that longing. We certainly can’t be that person to someone else. But there is someone who is not only human but is also filled with the fullness of God, someone who loves us with an everlasting love that constantly challenges us while also keeping us safe in his arms. He can literally take us to the moon and back and fulfill every dreamy metaphor of every love poem ever written. He can give us more than we can ask or imagine.

That’s the answer for our straying hearts, and we must not be fooled by any fake or substitute.  

Christian Love > Christian Grey

The entertainment industry has long sought to take advantage of our desires and dissatisfactions. By selling polished fantasies—whether in the form of “innocent” rom-coms or steamy sexualized romances of the 50 Shades variety—Hollywood cashes in by framing itself as a safe outlet and catharsis for unfulfilled longings. But the fantasies it propagates are neither safe nor cathartic when they fool us into commodifying and abusing sex, or when they distract us from the truths about love that will actually satisfy.

The male protagonist of the 50 Shades series is a beautiful billionaire with a personal helicopter, abusive desires, and an evocative name: Christian Grey. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s a verse I wrote to remind us what we’re missing out on if we buy into the fraudulent, cheap, unsatisfying sort of love he represents:

Though they market 50 hues
Of that monochrome, Abuse,
Study Love and you will find
Love is patient, Love is kind,
Love won’t envy, boast, or bait,
Love does not manipulate.
Love won’t push you into bed,
Assault your mind, mess with your head.
Love will treat you with respect,
Cherish, honor, care, protect,
Not delight in your disgrace
But give his life up in your place. 
Feeling wanted may entice
But Love is seen in sacrifice. 
So don’t be fooled by Christian Grey
When Christian Love wants you. Today.

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