When Love Comes to Town

15 04 2008

The U2 – BB King song “When Love Comes to Town”, first released on U2’s Rattle and Hum album, tells a story of one who unmistakably understands their own depravity and need for grace.  However, the song goes beyond an  understanding of one’s human depravity and need for divine grace because the core of it is to tell the story of how once grace has been truly encountered it transforms from the inside out.

The song begins with the imagery of a sailor lost at sea who can only be rescued by an outside force bigger than himself and his abilities.  A sailor, by the very nature of who he is, is expected to know his location at sea and be able to find safety and his way home.  So the song, from the first line, shows clearly that there are actions which we take that can only be fixed by the love of a merciful God.

In the second verse the song moves from the abstract to the more concrete.  A young male lover tells how he betrays love in order to fulfill his sexual desires.  The writer uses the imagery of white and a wedding gown to reveal the level of  innocence which was betrayed.  This was a young man making empty promises to an innocent girl with no intention of fulfilling them.  His only aim is to receive what he desires at the expense of another.

In the final verse we see that we are not only completely lost, not only are we capable of the betrayal of the love of another, but we are at our core sinners who have betrayed the very God who provides the love which can redeem us.

“I was there when they crucified my Lord – I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword  – I threw the dice when they pierced His side – But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.”

So, where is the grace here you maybe asking?  Grace is in the chorus.  It is between the sin, surrounding the sin.  What an amazing chorus it is because it masterfully reveals not only that love can redeem us from our sin but when we encounter grace it transforms us.  Once we have known divine love we become defined by it.  In just one line King and U2 show us the power of God’s grace. 

“But I did what I did before love came to town”

What I did before I encountered grace is gone, forgiven, redeemed.  However, the implication goes even beyond that because, now that love has come, I know better.  I am better.  I am better not because of anything I have done or can do but because of what Christ has done for me.  When love comes to town those who are lost become found.  When love comes to town our most sinful actions are forgiven.  When love comes to town our sin is laid upon the Savior.  When love comes to town we are changed and we will never again be as we were.



20 responses

15 04 2008

I find it very inspiring when “secular” artists sing about faith. In CCM, musicians are held to expectations that the church thrusts upon them, because CCM is made to primarily benefit the church. When “secular” artists such as U2 are freed of those expectations, they are able to express their faith in more honest and real terms. I find those instances of “grace in music” much more moving than otherwise.

15 04 2008

Thanks for an amazing observation. I had no idea that song even existed, or if I heard it I didn,t listen to the words obviously. It certainly is a clear picture of what happens when we let God’s love come fully into our lives. May God bless your ministry in His kingdom.

15 04 2008

I sent this to my brother in law who is not saved and is a huge U2 fan.
His response was “very VERY cool.”
God can use lots of things to reach us!
Thanks for posting this!

15 04 2008

I can’t tell you how encouraging that is. That is what this site is about – reaching people through different art forms with the message of Christ seen froma different persepective. Your comment brought a lump in my throat and tear to my eye. Thanks!

16 04 2008

I am delighted that you posted about this! It reminded me of this article from Christianity Today from way back in 2005 I think. In it, Bono gives a very real and solid explanation of his view of Christ the Savior and how he relied only on grace regarding heaven. It’s a pretty fantastic interview, was a total surprise to me, and I’ve been a Bono fan ever since. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. I don’t think I’ve heard this song and now I’m going to go look it up.

16 04 2008

Thank you. It is a great article and I had not seen it before. I may tuck it away and use it for referance on a future post. I have not forgotten about your recent loss and still pray for you ea day during my prayer time.
In Christ Alone,

16 04 2008
Mrs. Claus

I love it when rock musicians sneak christianity into their songs and then we get the opportunity to present Jesus when we explain what the real meaning is to non-believers. I don’t normally listen to U2 but I’ll have to check this one out.

18 04 2008

Thanks Mrs. C I prayed for you during your surgery today!

18 04 2008

Very good analysis of a wonderful song. And I believe B.B. King’s comment to Bono in the movie was something like “You a mighty young man to be writing such heavy lyrics.”

And while U2 is a huge commercial success, I don’t think I would call it a secular band as some here have said. Religion and faith and love have always been common themes with the band and its songwriting (primarily the poetry of Bono).

I’ve written about U2’s new movie U23D here. Major theme of the film is encouraging Christians, Jews and Muslims to recognize their common roots and learn to coexist.


Thanks for visiting, Darian.

18 04 2008

Thanks Bob! I love that scene in Rattle and Hum when King says that. Keep in touch.

18 04 2008

I am a huge u2 fan.
I got to see them in San Antonio during the Pop Mart tour.

18 04 2008

Thanks Preacherman! I am as well. I have never seen them in concert though. I want to see the new 3D film before it stops showing.

19 04 2008

Go see the movie! I highly recommend it, whether you’re a fan or not. It’s great fun and very well done!

Take care all.

19 04 2008
Pete Wilson

Thanks for the great post. I always need to be reminded of God’s love in my life.

20 04 2008

Pastor, Thanks for once again tying God’s Love and His Grace together. I picture it this it way — God’s Love is His GRACE. G,od’s R,iches A,t C,hrist’s E,xpense, expressed lovingly in John 3:16 ~keith

22 04 2008
Marlene Wawrzyniak

How I wish I could convey this vision of grace to my son who is so lost and searching for purpose in all the wrong places. He is a musician but the content and venues are far from Christian. He has no email address nor do I know where he is living at present but I know that God can use this and find a way to get it to him. Thanks, once again for sharing such wonderful insight into the meaning of God’s grace.

10 05 2008

Good job Darian – completely agree with many of the points mentioned here. I certainly don’t think that U2 is a ‘secular band’ – but nor are they a ‘Christian band’. Perhaps the best way to describe them is a great band (of Christians)!

10 05 2008

Oh & by the way, I got to see U23D at the London IMAX back in Feb – awesome is the only word. It made a stadium experience come alive AND feel personal. And how fantastic to close out on 40 and Yahweh!

26 11 2008
Sherie Evans

Hey Darian, I miss you. I just wanted to let you know that the Traveling Band is going to do “When Love Comes to Town” at a women’s retreat concert. I told the guys in the band to read your blog about BB. Love ya

14 01 2009
Devoted Dad

I was first introduced to the song by Johnny Lang and Joss Stone’s cover on Herbie Hancock’s Possibilities album. I must admit, I really didn’t pay too much attention to the song until my two-year old daughter started requesting it whenever we got into the car. As it was now her new favorite, I reviewed the lyrics to see if it “should” be her new favorite. I was pleasantly surprised to find rather overt allusions to the power of grace. The very first line reminds me of the Pentecostal hymn “Love Lifted Me” which begins, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from a peaceful shore. Very deeply stayed within, sinking to rise no more. But the Master of the sea, heard my dispairing cry. From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.” I thought it was an old blues tune that Hancock had found and remade because of the biblical leanings. Leave it to Bono to challenge my musical preconceptions

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