If you’re an urban, college-educated nontheist singing 19th-century Southern rural religious music, there are two options. You can take out the weird and uncomfortable bits and make it be about friendship:
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this, that brings my heart such bliss,
and takes away the pain of my soul.
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down
When I was sinking down, beneath my sorrows ground,
friends to me gathered round, O my soul.
(Unitarian Universalist hymnal)
Or you can sing it un-retouched:
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.
(anon, published 1811 in Lynchburg Virginia, A General Selection of the Newest and Most Admired Hymns and Spiritual Songs Now in Use)
The obvious thing for a blog post to do here is to make a point about one of these being better than the other, but I’m not sure. I find it kind of icky to tidy up and happify music that is at its heart deeply concerned with Hell and who is going there.
But the hipster approach, to sing the original lyrics with no connection to the value system of people who made them, also feels weird. If this weren’t white Americans singing music by other white Americans, it would be called cultural appropriation.
But I don’t think anything bad is happening, or at least not worse than leaving urban atheists without this weirdly beautiful music.