Jesus loves me, this I know,
“… and in the in-between time …”
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak but He is strong.
Jesus loves me—loves me still,
Though I’m very weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high,
Comes to watch me where I lie.
Jesus loves me—he will stay,
Close beside me all the way.
Then his little child will take,
Up to heaven for his dear sake.
The children’s song, Jesus Loves Me, has had a roundabout history. The lyrics, printed above, are a poem by Anna Bartlett Warner that was included in a novel by her sister, Susan Warner, published in 1860. The reason the other two verses are so moribund is that in the story, the poem was written to comfort a dying child. Not exactly what you want children singing in children’s church.
Actually, children wouldn’t be singing this song at all were it not for William Bradbury, who wrote the tune, the refrain (the “Yes, Jesus loves me” part), and two more verses of his own in 1862 and published it as a hymn.
Jesus loves me He who died
heaven’s gate to open wide.
He will wash away my sin,
let His little child come in.
Jesus loves me, this I know,
as He loved so long ago,
taking children on His knee,
saying, “Let them come to me.”
There have been other verses written down through the years, but the one we sang a lot when I was a kid I had forgotten about until a reader reminded me yesterday.
Jesus loves me when I’m good,
When I do the things I should;
Jesus loves me when I’m bad,
Though it makes Him very sad.
This was the second verse we sang when I was a kid. I have no idea where this came from, but I would guess it showed up somewhere in the 40s or 50s because it captures much of the thinking about God my generation grew up with. And even though this is in our past, I bring it up, including to our younger millennial friends, to remind us all of how easily we can stray from the grace of God.
Jesus loving me when I’m bad is a statement of grace, but making God glad when I’m good, and sad when I’m not, is a great big asterisk on grace. It says, Jesus loves me when I’m bad, BUT …, and the “but” is the louder message. The overall impression this left us with is that Jesus likes me better when I’m good, and that is a lie. Anything that attaches God’s reactions to my behavior is going to be problematic to His grace.
If I can make Him feel sad, then that makes me feel bad for making Him sad, and all that thinking springs from the old covenant which puts all the emphasis on our behavior — what we do to please or displease God. So if you don’t want to make God feel sad, this reasoning goes, then don’t do such-and-such.
My guess is that this thinking sprang from parents and Sunday school teachers trying to persuade children, mostly through fear, to behave better. When this is the view of God you grew up with as a child, it’s hard to shake. Grace is hard to grasp for us long term evangelicals. We have to adjust our whole understanding of God.
God is love. He removed the barrier of sin from our lives so He can forgive us and love us completely. If we walk away from Him and do wrong, we are the ones who suffer, because sin has consequences. But His grace and forgiveness remain in place and all we need to do is run to Him to receive it. It doesn’t make God sad when we’re bad; it makes us sad. So step out of that sadness and into the light of His love. His love never changes. He’s done everything to accept us, and He will do everything to live in and through us. Grace says, you can’t mess that up.