NASHVILLE (BP) – Fifty years ago, as they prepared to bring their third child into what seemed to be increasingly chaotic times, Bill and Gloria Gaither found themselves concerned about the kind of world their son Benjy would grow up in.
Bill Gaither said he and Gloria composed “a song of hope” as much for themselves as for others. But with “Because He Lives,” the young couple created one of the most influential Christian songs of all time.
“I’m not sure how good we thought it was, but we just wanted to create a song of hope, and it just rang a bell with people,” Bill Gaither said in an interview with Baptist Press. “I don’t think we understood the depth of what we wrote at the time when we wrote it.”
Released in October 1971, “Because He Lives” continues to resonate. While the song features an easily singable harmony, the impact is in the simple lyrics of Jesus’ resurrection, and what that truth means for Christians.
“Children of God are not meant to live in paralyzing fear,” Bill said. “God did not mean for us to live in fear. We are people of faith, not people of fear.”
Performing as part of The Gaither Trio, Bill and Gloria began performing the song at concerts. It soon took on a life of its own as crowds responded positively to its message.
“Because He Lives” has since been recorded or sampled by some of music’s biggest names, including Harry Connick Jr., Carrie Underwood, Steven Curtis Chapman, Matt Maher and David Crowder. It also made its way into countless hymnals and songbooks, including the 1991 and 2008 editions of the Baptist Hymnal.
The lyrics of the song were particularly impactful, and Bill and Gloria have received numerous honors for their lyrical work over the years. They have garnered multiple Dove Awards and Grammys, and have been inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. In 2000, they were named Songwriters of the Century by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).
Gloria said when writing the lyrics for “Because he Lives,” she actually began with the second verse about the joy of holding a newborn baby, and then wrote the first and third verses to give that verse context. She said it was initially surprising to see audiences respond so positively to a song so personal to them, but she says the personal nature of the song is actually what made it so successful.
“As a young writer I used to think in order to minister or communicate with a lot of people I needed to write about things that were general,” Gloria said. “I found out actually the more specific you are, the wider the audience. The more specific to your honest life, the more universal appeal it will have.”
The Gaithers soon began receiving letters from people telling stories of how much the song meant to them. They said a constant theme among the letters was how the song helped them get through a tough time. Many related especially to the line in the chorus about being able to face tomorrow.
One person wrote that they loved the song, but had changed line to “because He lives, I’m excited about tomorrow.” But while the Gaithers appreciated the sentiment, they contrasted it with the many notes and letters that described how the song helped them during a time of terrible loss or tragedy. They said the letters provided examples that sometimes, life is about facing tomorrow when joy seems hard to find. But for the believer, because of Christ’s resurrection there is access to true joy.
Craig Adams, Lifeway Worship’s director of creative development, is more intimately acquainted with the song than most. His father was The Gaither Trio’s organist, and Craig was born around the time the song was recorded.
Adams credits the song with bridging the gap between traditional hymns played only using piano or organ, and more modern contemporary Christian music played more with rhythm instruments.
The song’s brilliance, he said, is that the simple lyrics and musical structure allow for it to be just as beautiful played with a piano and large choir, or with an acoustic guitar and small group of believers in their home. (Musical arrangements for “Because He Lives,” can be found at both Lifewayworship.com orLifeway.com/worship.)
“I would say this is just due to their unique ability as songwriters to put things in a musical language that can move easily,” Adams said. “Bill just had a way of giving melody and rhymes to the common man in a very unique way. I would say on that level, he was very instrumental in building a bridge between traditional hymnody and the song that you would find on Christian radio today.”
Regardless of its influence on Christian music, Adams agrees with the Gaithers that the song’s simple yet profound message is what will live on for years to come.
“I would think, and dare to suggest certainly in the past five decades, there’s probably not a more widely recognizable song,” Adams said. “It brings the Gospel down to the intimate places in our own lives and shows how the Gospel is transformational.”
The Gaithers say it is hard to believe it has been 50 years since the song was released. But for Gloria, it simply takes her back to the birth of her son, and a realization that gave her peace.
“When we held our baby there was an ‘aha’ moment,” she said. “You don’t have a home, and a family and have babies and go on with your life because the world is stable. When has the world been stable? Jesus was born in the most uncertain of times. But the resurrection is not a one-time event, it is a principle for all time that life wins. This child can face uncertain days not because the world is stable, but because the resurrection is true.”