Making God sad?

Jesus loves me, this I know,OIP-20

“… and in the in-between time …”

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong;

They are weak but He is strong.


Jesus loves me—loves me still,

Though I’m very weak and ill;

From his shining throne on high,

Comes to watch me where I lie.


Jesus loves me—he will stay,

Close beside me all the way.

Then his little child will take,

Up to heaven for his dear sake.

The children’s song, Jesus Loves Me, has had a roundabout history. The lyrics, printed above, are a poem by Anna Bartlett Warner that was included in a novel by her sister, Susan Warner, published in 1860. The reason the other two verses are so moribund is that in the story, the poem was written to comfort a dying child. Not exactly what you want children singing in children’s church.

Actually, children wouldn’t be singing this song at all were it not for William Bradbury, who wrote the tune, the refrain (the “Yes, Jesus loves me” part), and two more verses of his own in 1862 and published it as a hymn.

Jesus loves me He who died

heaven’s gate to open wide.

He will wash away my sin,

let His little child come in.

Jesus loves me, this I know,

as He loved so long ago,

taking children on His knee,

saying, “Let them come to me.”

There have been other verses written down through the years, but the one we sang a lot when I was a kid I had forgotten about until a reader reminded me yesterday.

Jesus loves me when I’m good,

When I do the things I should;

Jesus loves me when I’m bad,

Though it makes Him very sad.

This was the second verse we sang when I was a kid. I have no idea where this came from, but I would guess it showed up somewhere in the 40s or 50s because it captures much of the thinking about God my generation grew up with. And even though this is in our past, I bring it up, including to our younger millennial friends, to remind us all of how easily we can stray from the grace of God.

Jesus loving me when I’m bad is a statement of grace, but making God glad when I’m good, and sad when I’m not, is a great big asterisk on grace. It says, Jesus loves me when I’m bad, BUT …, and the “but” is the louder message. The overall impression this left us with is that Jesus likes me better when I’m good, and that is a lie. Anything that attaches God’s reactions to my behavior is going to be problematic to His grace.

If I can make Him feel sad, then that makes me feel bad for making Him sad, and all that thinking springs from the old covenant which puts all the emphasis on our behavior — what we do to please or displease God. So if you don’t want to make God feel sad, this reasoning goes, then don’t do such-and-such.

My guess is that this thinking sprang from parents and Sunday school teachers trying to persuade children, mostly through fear, to behave better. When this is the view of God you grew up with as a child, it’s hard to shake. Grace is hard to grasp for us long term evangelicals. We have to adjust our whole understanding of God.

God is love. He removed the barrier of sin from our lives so He can forgive us and love us completely. If we walk away from Him and do wrong, we are the ones who suffer, because sin has consequences. But His grace and forgiveness remain in place and all we need to do is run to Him to receive it. It doesn’t make God sad when we’re bad; it makes us sad. So step out of that sadness and into the light of His love. His love never changes. He’s done everything to accept us, and He will do everything to live in and through us. Grace says, you can’t mess that up.

This entry was posted in forgiveness, God's love, grace, Old/New Covenants, parenting and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Making God sad?

  1. Angela Bowman says:

    Regarding “Jesus Loves Me”, here’s a version one of my little Sunday School students and I were inspired to create:

    Jesus knows me, This I love.
    Sent by God from Heaven above.
    He came down to forgive my sin.
    Jesus died and rose again.
    He died to save me.
    He died to save me.
    He died to save me.
    He knows me, This I love.
    Angela Bowman & Haley Short (June 2019)

  2. Andrew P. says:

    “If we walk away from Him and do wrong, we are the ones who suffer, because sin has consequences.”

    And why wouldn’t that make Him sad? Maybe that verse, as written, is a little ham-fisted, but I find it hard to comprehend that the one who loves us so wouldn’t be sad when we’re blowing it — not unlike ourselves, when our own children are blowing it. No, we can’t defeat His grace, but I think you might be overselling the “can’t make Him sad” notion.

    • jwfisch says:

      What I was trying to get at here is that the sadness was conveyed as a form of judgment. I can still see my Sunday school teacher shaking her pointed finger on every syllable of: “though-it-makes-Him-ve-ry-sad!” My point was that the end result left me thinking: “Jesus likes me better when I’m good.” The “Jesus loves me when I’m bad” part just never came across.

      • Andrew P. says:

        Fair enough, John. I’ve certainly seen (and experienced) that sort of thing.

  3. Mark D Seguin says:

    A great and profound Catch Pastor John, I could agree with it more!

    After reading last paragraph of it, I about stood up to shout Praise God & then about instantly felt the very presences of God and wanted to fall to my knees b/c I remembered He inhabits praise! Amen & Praise His Holy name!

    I don’t think I’ll understand His grace, but just sooo darn thankful for it b/c I know that I know I don’t deserve His love, kindness & Grace!!!

  4. David Reis says:

    Jesus wept over Israel’s spiritual condition, sheep without a shepherd. The verse confirms that His love is constant even when our behavior isn’t. When we sin, it is first and foremost against God. Ephesians 4:30 we are cautioned not to “grieve the Holy Spirit.” Humans vacillate in their demonstration of love. In contrast, God’s steadfast love (hesed) endures forever Ps 118:1 and in these tenuous days 1 Peter 5:7.
    I grew up in the legalistic Bible belt culture. I also spent some time in the opposite swing of the theological pendulum. It’s more complex than trying to find the middle ground. His thoughts are way beyond our complete understanding. We couch them in terms we understand this side of the veil.

  5. Sandie says:

    The bible tells us have a high priest that shares our every triumph and failure; that knows exactly how we feel because he experiences the same humanity. My thought is that he feels sad FOR us and WITH us as we stumble and fumble our way through life. The same goes for when we have triumph and joy. He cries and laughs WITH us and FOR us.
    His heart surely breaks when someone continually rejects His love to the day they die, never accepting His grace. And His heart breaks in love. not malice.

  6. peter leenheer says:

    This is a crucial point to me, to make sure kids know that it is not ok to do wrong, but God forgives and he loves us whether we do bad and good. A distinction that God loves us no matter what. He does not just favor those who we think ” do good” .

  7. peter leenheer says:

    I am a sunday school teacher so this point is crucial.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.