To Die For, Pt. 1

British pop star and hopeless romantic singer/songwriter Sam Smith broke into the music world in 2012 as a featured vocalist on Disclosure’s song “Latch.” Smith’s recent single “To Die For” is reminiscent of the 2014 hit, “Stay With Me;” melancholy lyrics and soaring vocals telling a tale of unattained love. But Smith’s story isn’t just the age-old story of the love-hungry romantic— there’s a twist. Near the beginning of his music career, Smith identified publicly as gay, and in 2019 declared himself gender non-binary, with the preference of being referred to as “they/them.” The cover art of “To Die For” communicates Smith’s gender-nonconformity neatly, with a close-up of Smith with mascara, scruff, and lipstick-pink lips, staring intensely forward. “To Die For” expresses that Smith wants love from a romantic partner, but the desire driving Smith is not just sexual. Smith is seeking one of the most fundamental things God made us to want and need: deep relational connection with other people.

Smith’s desire for romantic love creates a tension for Christians, since sexual relationships are meant to be between one man and one woman within the confines of marriage. Smith’s desire for relationships, even intimate relationships, is a good desire from God. However, the particular way in which Smith wants that desire to be fulfilled is outside of God’s good intent for human relationships. How do we respond to someone like Smith, who is desperately seeking love and an intimate relationship, but is seeking them in the wrong places?

To Receive and to Give
“To Die For” shows that Smith wants something more than a merely sexual relationship. Usually, we think of people as wanting to receive love; they want someone to love them, to make them feel special. Less often do we think of people as wanting to give love. But in any good relationship, it is just as important to give love as it is to receive it. Smith’s song attests to the desire to also give love with these lyrics:

I long for you
Just a touch of your hand
Lonely days, I’m feeling
Like a fool for dreaming
Solo shadow on a sidewalk
Just want somebody to die for
Sunshine living on a perfect day whilst my world’s crashing down
I just want somebody to die for

Smith is not asking that someone else be willing to die. Smith is wishing for “somebody to die for,” wishing that there were someone Smith could give so much love to that Smith would willingly die for them. Everyone wants to be loved, but relationships with other people are, by nature of the word, reciprocal—we need to give love as much as we need to receive it. In “To Die For,” Smith expresses the desire to give love to another person. That desire to give love is a good desire given to us by God (John 15:13, John 15:17). Yet, in trying to find someone to give love to, Smith is left only with confusion. Smith sings:

I close my eyes
From the fear
From the light
As I wander down the avenue so confused
Guess I’ll try and force a smile

Not having found love, either to give or to receive, Smith is lost in confusion and feels compelled to “force a smile” to hide the lack of love and connection with others. Even apart from differences in sexual orientation, Smith is suffering the confusion to which all humans are susceptible. Anyone can find themselves lonely and confused, asking themselves, “why don’t I feel loved?” or “why is there no one that I can give my love to?”

How do We Love Like Christ?
How to love an LGBTQ+ person with Christ’s love is a unique problem. While we cannot affirm their sexual desires, we do want to honor their God-given desire for deep, meaningful connection with other people. It is too easy to fall into one error or another, either capitulating to the world’s standard of sexuality and tacitly affirming what is sinful, or condemning without love those in the LGBTQ+ community. We must hold fast to truth, yet hold fast to love as well.

For an LGBTQ+ or same-sex attracted person it may seem that agreeing with Scripture means that their deepest desire for intimacy cannot be fulfilled. They may feel hopeless or like coming to Christ means that they have to deny who they are, abandoning their desires and even their needs. When we love our LGBTQ+ neighbors well, we must still acknowledge how difficult this can be for them. But God is a God of hope (Romans 15:13), and we have the hope that to pursue God is also to pursue our own greatest good (Romans 8:28, John 15:11). Yet, to give any adequate explanation of how Christianity offers the only way to fulfill our deepest desires, for LGBTQ+ persons or anyone else, is not simple.

This article is part one of a two-part series on “To Die For” by Sam Smith. In the next article, we’ll take a deeper look into how to think about and respond to those struggling between the good desire for intimate relationships and the desire to fulfill those needs in ways that are not God-honoring. We’ll focus on those whose struggles are shaped by same-sex attraction and look at insights from Christopher Yuan, Sam Alberry, and Rosaria Butterfield. For now, take some time to think about what it would be like to feel the pain Smith expresses in this song. Maybe you have felt it already. Then imagine what it would be like if someone told you that you had to give up one of your deepest desires in order to follow the truth. How would you respond? Use the discussion questions below to consider these issues.

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Jesse Childress

Jesse Childress has a deep appreciation for good food, philosophy, theology, and literature. He is the former Lead Content Editor and Writer for Summit Ministries' worldview blog Reflect, and spent a term studying at Francis Schaeffer's L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Jesse has an MA in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University (now Houston Christian University), and began attending Denver Seminary in the fall of 2022 to study counseling, focusing particularly on the relationship between trauma and faith.