No Love Like the First

No Love Like the First

Written by: Joelle Yong (Photo by: Ronald Lim)


Falling in and out of love

As Christians, we are familiar with the first of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Having grown up as a second generation Christian and having held various leadership positions in church, I was confident that I would never fall foul of this commandment.

I was sure that I would not worship statues like the golden calf or offer incense to other gods. But I have come to realise that idolatry is so much more than any of these.

Timothy Keller defines in Counterfeit Gods, “[An idol is] anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’”

I did not realise it then, but I had made an idol out of a boy. His small eyes crinkled when he laughed; he had big, warm hands, and an even bigger heart.

At 17, when he appeared in my life, I rushed headfirst into the relationship. I knew that I should have prayed about it first but I was too afraid — what if God said “No”? We were both afraid to tell our parents for fear that they would not approve, so we snuck behind our parents’ backs and lied just to spend time together.

The secrecy and lack of accountability definitely did not honour God and our parents. Deep in both our hearts, we knew it was wrong. But I could not let him go because young love felt good. 

I continued stuffing my heart with “good day spent with boyfriend today,” “laughed until our stomachs hurt,” and our “Ten Year Plan towards marriage” — desperately trying to fill the void in me. But I was never truly satisfied.

Every time we fought, and every day we did not get to see each other, only made me feel emptier. When our relationship ended, I was devastated. That’s the thing about idols: it becomes the ultimate thing, such that its loss leaves you in a state of despair.

I did not realise till years later that he had become my idol — he had taken over God’s rightful place in my heart. I had failed to see that the very needs that I had looked to my boyfriend to satisfy were created by God to draw me towards Him.

For me, my counterfeit god was love, but it can be anything: money, success, beauty, ideology, or the affirmation that we seek on social media; anything that has usurped the place of God in your life; anything apart from God that gives you a false, fleeting sense of meaning, value, and identity.

The void that we seek to fill is a God-shaped void that only He can fill. In a sermon on the life of Jacob, Timothy Keller talked about how people with an inner emptiness give themselves to a hope for “one true love,” expecting that it would give them significance and justify their existence.

It struck me that if we were to place our hopes on human love (or anything that has replaced God as the first love of our life), there will always be a “ground note of cosmic disappointment.” Just like how Jacob went to bed thinking that he had Rachel and would finally be happy, he woke up in the morning only to find out that it was Leah. It will always be Leah in the morning — we would always be disappointed.

I realised that while our search for love and meaning apart from God leaves us disappointed and hurt, it also pains God. In the wise words of my mentor, “We are already made whole in Him, as the Bride of the Lamb, and it breaks His heart when we seek fulfilment in things apart from Him.”

My wake up call arrived when Hosea 2:7 found me:

“She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them. Then she will say, ‘I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.”

Hosea 2 is a picture of Israel’s unfaithfulness (vv. 1–5), God’s judgment for her unfaithfulness (vv. 6–13), and God’s mercy on Israel (vv. 14–23). I used to take pride in being faithful and devoted in my relationships, but when I read Hosea 2, it dawned on me that I had been unfaithful in the one relationship that mattered the most.

As the church, we are the Bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). In the same way that you would expect your partner to be faithful to you and would be jealous otherwise, our God is a jealous God — He is jealous for us. He does not just want our half-hearted affections; He wants our whole heart.

The desire for romance and love was meant to draw us into a relationship with God, so that we become His bride, and not away from him into the arms of a mere mortal man. Yet, I was like the adulterous woman in Hosea — despite having tasted the goodness of God, I too chased after other lovers.

I thank God for His grace and His intervention. Just like how He made the way of sin difficult for Israel (Hosea 2:6), punished her for her unfaithfulness, and most importantly, beckoned her back to Him (Hosea 2:14), God did the same for me.

“I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.”  — Hosea 2:19–20

God promises that He will incline our hearts to Him and enable us to be faithful, to be betrothed to Him, forever. It is still a journey for me to reach a point where I can say “Christ is enough for me,” but it has been an exciting one.

Having ran to wells that have never satisfied me for the past five years, I dare say that no relationship that this world has to offer can compare to the sweetness of God’s love. Truly, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

JOELLE loves all things whimsical (like unicorns and fairylights!), has a laugh as loud as her personality, and likes warm hugs. When she is not studying to be a female Mike Ross, you can probably find her at the gym. Catch her adventures — food, travel and life — at @yongjoelle.


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