The Love of God – myth or tradition?

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

     This verse comes from a song called “The Love of God.” Fred­er­ick M. Leh­man wrote this song in 1917 in Pas­a­de­na, Cal­i­fornia. The lyr­ics are based on the Jew­ish poem Had­da­mut, writ­ten in Ara­ma­ic in 1050 by Meir Ben Isaac Ne­hor­ai, a can­tor in Worms, Ger­ma­ny; they have been trans­lat­ed in­to at least 18 lang­uages.

The story of its origins has been told many times in many places. The Jewish community in Germany (nine hundred years before Hitler) was under threat of genocide but was spared by a miracle from God. To memorialize the event, the cantor wrote a lengthy poem containing the verse above.

In the early 1900’s, staff at an insane asylum were cleaning up the room of a patient who had died and found this verse scrawled on the wall. An evangelist traveling through the area was told about the verse in the patient’s room. He incorporated the story into one of his sermons. Frederick Lehman was in the audience and later integrated the verse into his song “The Love of God.”

It’s a beautiful story. No doubt there is more to the story than we will ever know. Every word may be true. Why would anyone question the truth in it when it carries such a powerful message? Is it the history of the song that makes it more believable, or is it that the words are recorded on paper for you to read that make it believable, or is it truth because the words themselves reach into doctrine for strengthening the concrete your heart and weaken your knees?

In our fact-obsessed society, myth is being concretized and this is emptying the Stories of the power of their message. Tradition drifts toward deifying its own myths, thinking something can be truth only if the facts are correct. When faith is no longer needed, knees no longer weaken. Thank God we don’t have to verify the truth in all the children’s  books that attempt to teach a fundamental truth. How many animals do you know that talk?

Yet there remain some who love a great story and don’t need the concrete. Even in a jail cell, the love of God can be felt.

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