God and Country . . . Music, that is
I begin with a confession.
I love country music.
As an experiment, before I began to type, I pulled up my Pandora App and it played a Hank Williams, Jr. song.
I’m a bit of an old-timer when it comes to my country music. I haven’t listened regularly to current country radio in years. I know a few of the new folks, but for the most part I’m ignorant.
With that confession and my admission of ignorance out of the way, let me tell you about something I’ve been pondering.
A few months ago, when we first moved to Jackson, I entered the dry cleaners and the radio station was playing a classic country song (I can’t remember which). So, I asked the person behind the counter what station was playing, and when I returned to my car I tuned in.
Recently, I turned to the station several days in a row.
Now, here’s the frustrating part.
The same song was on each time—Blake Shelton’s, “The Boys ‘Round Here.”
My first impression was that the singer and songwriters were just trying too hard. I was actually embarrassed for them at the line, “chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit.”
The chorus is what I can’t stop thinking about. It goes like this:
Yeah the boys ’round here
Drinking that ice cold beer
Talkin’ ’bout girls, talkin’ ’bout trucks
Runnin’ them red dirt roads out, kicking up dust
The boys ’round here
Sending up a prayer to the man upstairs
Backwoods legit, don’t take no lip
Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit
My issue isn’t with the song’s celebration of redneckism. As a Hank Jr. fan, I can’t fault that approach. What does bother me, and it bothers me about many country songs, is the casual inclusion of God.
The group Alabama used that same phrase in a song called “Roll On.” The story of a lost trucker’s telephone reunion with his family includes the line, “but the man upstairs was listening, when Momma asked Him to bring Daddy home.” That line confused me very much when I was a kid. I couldn’t figure out how the man in the apartment upstairs could find her husband when others couldn’t. (Don’t worry. My dad explained it to me.)
The Gentle Giant, Don Williams, explored the nature and purposes of God in “I Believe in You.” One verse says of God:
Well, I don’t believe that heaven waits
For only those who congregate
I’d like to think of God as love
He’s down below
He’s up above
He’s watchin’ people everywhere
He knows who does and doesn’t care
And I’m an ordinary man
Sometimes I wonder who I am.
The song is a favorite of mine. Like several of William’s singles, including “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” the song contemplates deeper issues than most country tunes. The picture it presents of God, however, stands contrary to the Bible. Lack of church attendance plus good works and intentions do not equal favor with God.
One of the most overt examples of a casual approach to Christianity is Cal Smith’s song, “The Lord Knows I’m Drinkin.” Written by Whiperin’ Bill Anderson, the song tells the story of a man being confronted in a bar by a self-righteous Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Johnson. The chorus says:
The Lord knows I’m drinking and running around
And He don’t need your loud mouth informing the town
The Lord knows I’m sinning and sinning ain’t right
But me and the good Lord gonna have us a good talk later tonight
Once again, we have flippancy towards the true nature of God. The song may be a bit funny, but the theology is anything but.
So, why all this ranting?
Our notion and understanding of the nature of God informs all that we do. If we build up a picture of God that is contrary to His true nature, then our behavior will reflect that false understanding.
If we develop our understanding of God from His Word, then, through sanctification, we will grow in Christ-likeness.
I believe that country music offers valid insight into real life. David Allen Coe codified the perfect country song when he said it includes momma, trains, trucks, prison, and getting drunk. Many people joke about those clichés, but they exist because country music has dealt with both the good and bad of almost any subject.
Theology, however, is not country music’s strongpoint.
As Christians, we must be careful about what creeps into our thinking. We discover God through His Word, not through others as they sing about their imagined version of deity.
Don’t go out and jettison all of your country tracks. Just be aware that the God of Nashville is often not the God of the Bible.
By the way, I just tried my Pandora App again. It played Johnny Cash.