Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town
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
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face.
I'm not sure how often people fuse together words from U2's 'When Love Comes to Town' and Deuteronomy 17:9-10, but doing so helps us to understand something critical about the nature of what it means to love.
When I read the first two lines above, 'Maybe I was wrong to let you down/but I did what I did before love came to town,' it sounds like the kind of non-apologies that are far too common in our world. You know, the kind of apology you offer when you don't really think you did anything wrong - 'I'm sorry that I hurt you, but here's my excuse.' Deny the objectivity of the fault and shift the blame off of yourself. It's a rather brilliant strategy that sounds contrite but in the end offers no admission of guilt.
But I don't think that's what Bono had in mind here (and I understand that trying to ascertain anyone's motives is a risky business). To me, the heart of this song is the transforming power of God's love ('I've seen love conquer the great divide'), which means that these first two lines are not a blame-shifting non-apology but the recognition of a life that has been significantly altered by love.
That creates quite the pickle for us because God created us to love and our failure to love does more than make us a mean person - it reveals the reality of our condition as those who not only can't stand other people, but as men, women and children who have grown tired and bored and fed up with God. In his brilliant work on the power of implanted sin in our lives, John Owen reminds us that 'every act of sin is a fruit of being weary with God' (Indwelling Sin, chapter 4). Our failure to love others is ultimately a Godward problem because what it reveals is that rather than banking all of my life (including our thinking and affection) on God, I have grown tired of his meddling in my life. We don't fail to love merely because this other person is unloveable - no, we don't love because to love would mean that God has gained control of our hearts.