The Love of God by Frederick Lehman, and his daughter, Claudia Mays, has endured as one of the most beloved hymns over the decades. The popular Christian band, MercyMe, did a rendition (listen to it here: MercyMe– The Love of God). However, my favorite rendition will always be the one by the Gaithers and Friends (listen to it here: The Love of God– Gaithers & Friends). Interestingly, the tale of this hymn is far older even than its run of popularity. And the reality of its conception is even stranger than fiction.
According to Lehman, he and his daughter collaborated and wrote the first two verses of this hymn and its chorus after they found their inspiration in the most unusual of places: scribbled on the walls of a room in an insane-asylum.
“One day, during short intervals of inattention to our work, we picked up a scrap of paper and, seated upon an empty lemon box pushed against the wall, with a stub pencil, added the two stanzas and chorus of the song…Since the lines had been found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave, the general opinion was that this inmate had written the epic in moments of sanity.”– Frederick M. Lehman, History of the Song, The Love of God, 1948
In fact, historians have traced those lines back to an Aramaic poem from the 11th century entitled, Akdamut Millan. Rabbi Meir Bar Yitzach Nehorai – a cantor, or “synagogue singer,” from Worms, Germany wrote the Akadamut as an introduction to the reading of Ten Commandments. Presently, it is a liturgical poem in the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition. Typical Ashkenazi worshipers recite the Akadamut on the first day of Shavuot.
The patient in the insane asylum had most likely heard this poem in a Jewish liturgy, perhaps as a child or young adult before entering the asylum. Presumably, during a moment of reminiscent lucidity, the patient then scribbled the words on the wall. Frederick Lehman and his daughter then took the words from the asylum and adapted them to create the lyrics we have today.
It brings such joy to my heart to see the passage of the lyrics of this hymn. The story of this hymn testifies that indeed God’s love goes “beyond the highest star, and reaches to the lowest hell”, even into the darkness of an asylum cell. Those words of God’s love journeyed from a Hebrew cantor, down through the centuries, to a Gentile hymn writer, and now to all Christendom. The words traveled from Aramaic to German to English and beyond. Hallelujah! The love of God knows no limits, no tribe, no station of life! It is far greater than any could ever tell!