Justin and Hailey Bieber at their 2019 wedding.
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A song at the top of the Bill­board that pro­motes a Christian view of mar­riage is not some­thing I had slated for 2020.

The song was Justin Bieber’s new single “Holy,” which was released on Sept. 18 and fea­tures Chance the Rapper. When my roommate blasted it in our apartment, I was taken in by the gospel-inspired hook and added it to my playlist to listen to later. I lis­tened to it more closely a few days later —  so closely that I had it on repeat for about three hours, com­pletely charmed by both the arrangement and the lyrics.

At first I thought it was just another song that used reli­gious lan­guage to describe some­thing other than a rela­tionship with God. There are many songs like this, including Florida Georgia Line’s “H.O.L.Y.,” Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,” and Maren Morris’ “My Church.” They all repeat the message made clear by secular culture —  religion can be replaced by whatever or whoever you want. 

Much to my sur­prise, after a quick search of “Holy’s” lyrics, I found the song does more than just exalt a romantic rela­tionship to the status of religion. This song embraces a deeply Christian view of mar­riage as a sacra­mental union, and encourages lovers to invite God into the midst of their relationship. 

The truth that one comes to know God more fully through the rela­tionship between spouses is now a claim shared by Chris­tians— and now by two of the most well-known artists of the decade.

Bieber sings in the refrain: “The way you hold me […]/Feels so holy […]/On God/Running to the altar like a track star/ Can’t wait another second/ On God.”

By ref­er­encing the altar, he describes the dual antic­i­pation of being joined to his wife through mar­riage, and becoming closer to God through the process. The altar is the place where tra­di­tional Christian wedding cer­e­monies are per­formed, and, for those who believe in the Eucharist, where heaven and earth meet at each cel­e­bration of the Sacrament.

In the rap portion of the song, Chance the Rapper goes into how placing one’s identity in God honors both the lover and beloved: “I wanna honor, wanna honor you, bride’s groom, I’m my Father’s child/ I know when the son takes the first steps, the Father’s proud.”

He rounds out the rap with my favorite line in the song: “For­malize the union in com­munion, He can trust /I know I ain’t leavin’ you like I know He ain’t leavin’ us /I know we believe in God, and I know God believes in us.”

“Holy” stems from the two rela­tion­ships most important to Bieber: God and his wife Hailey. 

For one, Bieber has fre­quently tes­tified to his faith in Jesus. He was bap­tized in 2014 after a born-again expe­rience, and has since embraced Evan­gelical Chris­tianity. He credits his con­version with helping him overcome some of his issues with mental health and arrests.

“I’m a Jesus fol­lower,” Bieber said in an interview in April. “When you accept Jesus, you walk with the Holy Spirit. I just want to be led by the Holy Spirit.”

His con­version also led him to his wife, the model Hailey Baldwin. She’s also a Christian, and they kept running into each other at church con­fer­ences before they even­tually got married. 

“The common denom­i­nator, I promise you, is always church,” she said in a 2019 Vogue interview.

The couple decided to abstain from sex while they were dating, which resulted in a quick civil mar­riage in 2018 when they decided they couldn’t wait to con­summate the rela­tionship. This story gives “running to the altar/can’t wait another second” lyric a per­sonal element.

“Some­times people have sex because they don’t feel good enough. Because they lack self-worth,” Bieber said in the same interview. “I wanted to reded­icate myself to God in that way because I really felt it was better for the con­dition of my soul. And I believe that God blessed me with Hailey as a result.”

Another influence on the song is the pro­duction work of Jon Bellion, a notable singer/songwriter and pro­ducer in his own right. Bellion’s songs often incor­porate his musings on the divine, and acute lis­teners will find sim­i­lar­ities between “Holy” and his body of work. Bellion knows how to emphasize certain musical aspects so that the arrangement brings out the core of a song. The bright, gospel bursts of the chorus, com­pared to the simpler piano and bass backed track under­neath the rest of the song keeps the name of God at the center of the lis­tening experience.

Bieber said that this “Holy” marks the beginning of a new era for him musi­cally. He may even follow in the foot­steps of Kanye West and release an entire Gospel album. This probably doesn’t signal any big change for the music industry (unfor­tu­nately, “WAP” is still the number one song on the Spotify charts) but it’s nice to see at least one person’s redemption played out so publicly. 

Bieber goes against the grain and affirms that it’s unhealthy to view your sig­nif­icant other as being able to replace God. This view of romance ulti­mately con­signs your partner to failure when they’re inevitably unable to fill that need. It can only be remedied by “running to the altar,” where God enters into human life.