It’s been more than fifty years since “Because He Lives,” one of the most beloved songs of the Christian faith, debuted to high acclaim – a hymn written in eerily similar global circumstances that we find ourselves today.
“‘Because He Lives,’” was written in the midst of social upheaval, threats of war, and betrayals of national and personal trust,” remembered co-author Gloria Gaither, who along with her husband, Bill, penned the now classic piece of music.
“It was into this world at such a time that we were bringing our third little baby. Assassinations, drug trafficking, and war monopolized the headlines. It was in the midst of this kind of uncertainty that the assurance of the Lordship of the risen Christ blew across our troubled minds like a cooling breeze in the parched desert.”
Context is everything, and Gloria’s memory of wrestling with the world’s uncertainties on New Year’s Eve in 1970 framed the inspiration behind the couple’s famous hymn.
“I am a wife and a mother,” she recalled. “The drug culture was in full swing, existential thought had obviously saturated every area of our American thought, the cities were seething with racial tension, and the God-is-dead pronouncement had giggled its way all through our educational system.”
I recently spoke with Gloria, now 80 years old. Her husband, Bill, is 87. Once crowned the “Christian Songwriters of the Century,” the Gaithers are still recording and performing – but over 800 songs later, it’s the music composed in a struggling season of their lives over a half-century ago that still gets requested most of all.
The Indiana resident remembered lamenting the world’s evilness and feeling almost guilty for introducing a new child to its darkness. But then it struck her – God didn’t send His Son into a fully-functioning world, but to a sinful one. In short, He came to save us from the very thing she was fretting.
So, the Gaithers processed the emotion just the way most singer-songwriters do – they sat down with pen, paper, and a piano – and allowed the Holy Spirit to guide their musical notes, thoughts and words.
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,” Bill and Gloria wrote. “Because He lives, All fear is gone. Because I know, He holds the future … And life is worth the living, just because He lives.”
As the Middle East roils and boils red hot, war in Eastern Europe rages on, and political dysfunction runs at record rates here at home, does that sentiment resonate with you?
Based on Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, “Because I live, you also will live” (14:19, ESV), the Gaithers recognized that the way we’re to face today isn’t just to keep an eye on the world’s problems – but to keep our eyes on the Lord – and trust that it’s because of His Resurrection that even the worst we see is manageable because it will soon pass away.
Looking back across her full and adventurous life in service to the Lord, Gloria told me that she prioritizes and measures things these days based on a single question:
Is there eternity in it?
“Our job is to recognize that eternity begins here,” she said.
Over the years, Christians have been accused of instigating all kinds of cultural instability, but the reality is quite the opposite. As believers in a risen Christ, followers of Jesus provide a unique and lasting ballast in the current chaos.
And as Bill and Gloria Gaither first sang more than a half-century ago, even while we might have to “fight life’s final war with pain … death gives way to victory … I’ll see the lights of glory, and I’ll know He reigns.”
Photo from Gaither Music.