Last week I shared the story behind Charles Wesley’s Easter classic, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” I thought this week I would share the background for a more modern gospel hymn that is often sung on Easter morning. It was written by Bill and Gloria Gaither and my congregation almost always sings it at the conclusion of our worship time on Easter morning (more often than not led by the stellar voice of Tim Spiller).
“Because He Lives” is the song I am referencing, of course.
Bill and Gloria Gaither (now 78 and 72 years old, respectively) are two of the most prolific and popular Southern Gospel music writers and performers in the world. Bill normally serves as the composer and his wife Gloria writes most of the lyrics for their songs, and they have performed these songs on the Bill Gaither Trio as well as the Gaither Vocal Band. Their many songs include “The Longer I Serve Him,” “The King is Coming,” “Something Beautiful,” “He Touched Me” and “Let’s Just Praise the Lord,” as well as 700 more! Arguably the most popular of them all is “Because He Lives,” and there is an interesting story behind it.
The Gaithers’ story began in the community of Alexandria, Ind., where Bill and Gloria met while teaching high school together. Bill had roots in Southern Gospel music and began the Bill Gaither Trio (joined by his brother Danny and his sister Mary Ann) while he was a student at Anderson College (now Anderson University), a Christian college in Anderson, Ind. Soon after Bill and Gloria met, they began to share ideas about songs. Gloria had been an English major in college so she had a strong command of language and vocabulary. Not long after they were married (in 1962), Gloria took Mary Ann’s place in the trio and, by 1967, Bill was devoting his full-time attention to their career in music.
But the 1960s were a chaotic era and the quantum shift in values was deeply disturbing to Bill and Gloria. They had begun to wonder if God hadn’t given up on the world. The winter of 1969 was a particularly bleak one for them. Not only had the Indiana winter been a long and hard one, with the north wind blowing even more fierce than usual for that region, Bill had been stricken with a severe case of mononucleosis. At the same time, Gloria and some other members of their church family encountered some painful false accusations and belittlement. As you can imagine, this was a very hard time for both Bill and Gloria.
She remembers sitting in their living room in agony and fear on New Year’s Eve. Across the nation, the educational system was being infiltrated with the “God is dead” idea, while drug abuse and racial tension were increasing. The older generation felt that the country’s best days were behind them and their baby boomer children agreed (yet, both felt that the others were to blame). Sound familiar? It was about this time that Bill and Gloria discovered that they had a baby on the way. It was wonderful news, yet it also concerned them. Was it really a wise thing to bring a baby into such a world?
One sunny day in the early spring, Bill, Gloria and Bill’s father George walked across the paved parking lot at their small A-frame offices. George called Bill and Gloria’s attention to a spot they had not noticed. He pointed out a tiny blade of grass that had pushed aside layers of dirt, rock and concrete to reach the sunshine of the world above. It had such a strong will to live; it had overcome all the odds to fulfill its destiny. That blade of grass became a symbol to the Gaithers of how God works in His creation. And it inspired Gloria to write a song expressing the hope that was shaped by the resurrection of Jesus, as well as that blade of grass and the birth of her son.
“God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus; He came to love, heal and forgive. He lived and died to buy my pardon; An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives. … How sweet to hold a newborn baby; and feel the pride and joy he gives; but greater still, the calm assurance: This child can face uncertain days because He lives. … Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living just because He lives!”