The Gospel According to Sheryl Crow

“I Shall Believe” – Sheryl Crow

Come to me now
And lay your hands over me
Even if it’s a lie
Say it will be alright
And I shall believe

I’m broken in two
And I know you’re on to me
That I only come home
When I’m so all alone

But I do believe

That not everything is gonna be the way
You think it ought to be
It seems like every time I try to make it right
It all comes down on me
Please say honestly you won’t give up on me
And I shall believe
And I shall believe

Open the door
And show me your face tonight
I know it’s true
No one heals me like you
And you hold the key

Never again
would I turn away from you
I’m so heavy tonight
But your love is alright
And I do believe

That not everything is gonna be the way
You think it ought to be
It seems like every time I try to make it right
It all comes down on me
Please say honestly
You won’t give up on me
And I shall believe
I shall believe


For the last week or so, I’ve been singing this song to myself. I don’t know why I find it so hauntingly beautiful. If I am reading it rightly, it tells the story of a woman who has left a husband for a series of lovers, who returns home broken, desperate and distraught, who seeks consolation from the man she abandoned. As a fine, upstanding young man, it is nothing at all like any situation I’ve been in. Or is it?

Throughout the Bible we find God describing his feelings towards his people in ways that still shock me. We are like chicks that God longs to gather in his arms. We are like the baby at the breast of a nursing mother. Such positive comforting images. And yet, one image recurs. There is one illustration that God uses to describe his love and feelings for his people over and over. It is the image of this Sheryl Crow song. It is the image of a prostitute and her broken-hearted husband. In Hosea, in Isaiah, in Jeremiah, we see this image repeated: God lamenting a people that have spit in his face and have abandoned him to chase after other lovers. And in the ministry of Jesus we see this theme not only repeated, but enacted. Jesus came to rescue not allegorical prostitutes, but actual prostitutes. The outcast and the despised and the filthy flocked to Jesus.

Looking at this song through the lens of the gospel, I notice three things about this woman: her utter desperation, her shame, and her hope.

We see her utter desperation in the plaintive tones of the song itself and in her doubt that her life can ever be healed. “Come to me now, And lay your hands over me. Even if it’s a lie, Say it will be alright.” Throughout the song, you can hear how utterly she despairs of herself. She has had her freedom, and what has she gained from it? Misery and tears and emptiness. She is like the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable who comes to the end of himself, longing to eat out of a pig’s trough. Can this man whom she left fix what she has destroyed? She doubts it. But even if he cannot, she will seek him anyway. Better to die at his feet than to die alone.

We also see her shame. “I’m broken in two, And I know you’re on to me: That I only come home When I’m so all alone.” Even in her repentance, she recognizes her mixed motives and her selfishness. Her husband is no fool and she knows he is not. When she is honest with herself, she has no merit or good intentions that she can appeal to. All she can plead is an empty life that seeks to be filled: “Open the door, And show me your face tonight. I know it’s true. No one heals me like you, And you hold the key.” I leave it all in your hands, she says. I am seeking mercy, not justice and only you can provide it.

But finally, we see her hope. The title of the song is also the refrain: “I shall believe.” “Please say honestly you won’t give up on me And I shall believe.” She no longer hopes in herself, but in someone else: the husband who will take her back. “Say the word, and I will be healed,” she says. I trust not in my own goodness; I have none at all. Instead, I trust in your goodness. The whole song is actually a love song, all the more beautiful because it comes from someone who finally realizes how faithful and how true is the love that she has so long rejected. Only when we realize how desperate our need is will we finally recognize the riches of God’s grace to sinners. In the words of Jesus, he who has been forgiven much loves much.

Whether or not Sheryl Crow intended it, this song is a picture of the gospel. We are the adulterous wife and God is the faithful husband. We have brought him shame and disgrace and misery. What does it cost him to take us back? The song ends before it tells us. But we know what it cost him in real life: nails, thorns, tears, and death.

Only one aspect of the song needs amendment. In it, the woman seeks out her husband in tears and repentance. But in real life, it is God who seeks us. God is the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. God is the woman who seeks the lost coin. Our rescue doesn’t depend on our penitence or our humility but on God’s mercy. We love him because he first loved us and sent Jesus to bear the pain of our rebellion. I shall believe. Amen.

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