Hard-Living Outlaws and the Good Women Who Save Them: “Like Jesus Does”

The other night, I was turning the radio dial (actually now pushing the button) trying to find something worth listening to and I was drawn to some electronically-enhanced Vegas-style country singer telling a familiar tale —

Eric Church - Having a Beer On Stage - Capitol Records Street Party 2011 - Nashville, Tn by tncountryfan

I’m a long-gone Waylon song on vinyl,
I’m a back row sinner at a tent revival,
But she believes in me like she believes her Bible,
And loves me like Jesus does.
I’m a left-foot-leaning on a souped-up Chevy,
I’m a good old boy, drinking whiskey and rye on the levee,
But she carries me when my sins make me heavy,
And loves me like Jesus does.
All the crazy in my dreams, Both my broken wings,
Every single piece of everything I am, Yeah, she knows the man I ain’t,
She forgives me when I can’t,
The devil, man, no, he don’t stand a chance,
‘Cause she loves me like Jesus does.
I always thought she’d give up on me one day,
Wash her hands of me, leave me staring down some runway,
But I thank God each night, and twice on Sunday,
That she loves me like Jesus does.      (from “Like Jesus Does” by Eric Church)
          What is the “good news” here?  And is it really “Good News”?
          First, it is good that the singer acknowledges himself to be a sinner.  He is humble, it seems.  But has he been redeemed?  He says, “he is a long-gone Waylon song on vinyl”.  It seems he is lost in sin.  So where does he turn?   To Jesus?  Nope.  To the love of a good woman.  On the one hand, you have to admire that she loves him “like Jesus does”, but you also have to wonder what this means, if she believes in him [her man] “like she believes her Bible”.
          The woman’s faith is somehow strong enough to balance allegiance to God with loyalty to her “good old boy, drinking whiskey and rye on the levee.”  Her faith is strong enough even to carry him and the weight of his sins.  She believes, so he doesn’t have to.  Is this loving like Jesus does?
          Again, he admits his “craziness” and “brokenness” – essentially his need for forgiveness.  But who forgives him?  God?  Nope.  His little woman, of course, whose redemptive love is so powerful that even the devil himself doesn’t stand a chance.  All he can do is be grateful to God for her (perhaps saying a prayer on his way to the levee for more whiskey and rye).
          I must admit as much as I love classic country music, this theme of a hard-living outlaw saved by the love of a good woman is an archetype celebrated in song and even revered in life.  Take Johnny Cash and June Carter, for instance.  Until June came along, Johnny was on a sure road to destruction.  Even with her help, he lived on the outlaw edge, but with her by his side, it was if he were made complete, redeemed by her love.
           This false theology does an injustice both to God and humanity.  When we strip the story of Christ’s sacrificial love on the cross and hang it around the necks of even the best women, we commit idolatry.
            For the women, we are setting them up for abusive relationships where men can destroy themselves and those around them while the women are left behind to pray (and, of course, stand by his side).
             Men, then, are freed from the responsibility of faithful living and grow up never really growing up.
              Good news?  What do you think?
(photo above “Eric Church – Having a Beer On…” from tncountryfan)

17 thoughts on “Hard-Living Outlaws and the Good Women Who Save Them: “Like Jesus Does”

  1. Very powerful point. I agree that in this sort of case, the woman is like the tether to the Lord, while the man is dangling well into the precipice; he is confident that her knots are tied tight enough for the both of them, despite the fact that his is dancing a jig at the end of his length of rope instead of trying to add his own anchor line to God…sounds like a predictable action film scene, because we know what happens most often:
    1. He falls off and she is left to mourn.
    2. They both fall off.

    But I think that there is provision when one or the other person in the relationship is perhaps to be described as not as strong in his/her faith (not wallowing or lost in sin as you mention), which is where I think I Corinthians 7:12-14 is going…

  2. My Bible study group is currently reading ” Created to be his Help Meet”. The author talks about how Eve was taken from Adam’s Rib and so women are to help their man. I am having a lot of trouble with the book, as parts of it seem to me, idolatry of her husband. Yes, we should love and respect our husband, but Jesus is always first.

    This song seems to tie into that theme on many levels.

    I agree with you, a woman can make a difference, and lead a man to Jesus, but she cannot be the substitute, any more than a woman should make her hubby ‘god’ in her life.

    thanks for letting me vent.

  3. Hi Tony,

    Thanks for this – a penetrating analysis and a powerful question. I know from your blog you’re coming at life through a profoundly Christian view and I have the greatest respect for that. You can perhaps tell from my blog I’m a little more “transcendental” , but I agree there’s something shallow and self serving in this guy’s attitude. He can continue being bad or self destructive so long as he can maintain an image of what I’d call the “divine female” that he can interpret as approving of him, or loving him, or accepting his faults. It’s a seductive image for a man, and an easy trap to fall into. Pay lip-service to your Anima, or muse, or whatever, like this guy, and she will sink you. Harder to sing about if she says: “pull yourself together, or I’m off.” – and my respects to her if she does.

    He definitely needs to find another way.

    Regards

    Michael

    • Thank you for such a thoughtful comment. There are many dangerous, idolatrous expressions of religious truths that are sometimes labeled “Christian”. This is one of them.

      I appreciate your perspective.

  4. The problem is him, not her love. Yes, her love appears to be sheer lunacy, but, seriously, so does Christ’s. If he can man-up, and grow, and treat her with some dignity, then maybe he can write a new song that doesn’t make one want to gag.

    As for her…your reference to her as “his little woman” says it all. She’s one to walk all over, not an equal and valued partner, but a necessary doormat for Joe Pathetic to trample on and use. That accessment, combined with the apparent purity of her love and the comparison to the love of Christ speaks volumes.

    And, nobody was better than Johnny and June…they were magic.

    • I was hoping you would share your reflections on this.

      You offer an important corrective to my perspective here. I only meant to suggest that the character singing the song is in no position to determine just what is “like Jesus” and what is not. The woman – little or big – behind him may be as loving as Jesus or she may be as blind as a bat.

      Also, the line “she believes in me like she believes the Bible” conjures up images of women swearing on the Bible their lying, cheating husbands are actually true to them.

      As for Johnny and June, you will find no greater fan of their music than me. We can only hope that the “true story” of their relationship was just as beautiful as the country myth that it inspired.

  5. I agree; country music is definitely a sin! (Oh, I see. That is not the lesson).

    What an interesting, tough topic. I’ve always thought of my wife as the person who completes me. With this mindset, maybe I’m not leaving enough room for God to work in me first. To further complicate the issue, I am also apart of the bride of Christ.

    This is a thinker!

    • Thanks for your comment. It is quite a mystery how a man and a woman become one flesh in marriage, yet remain individually accountable before God. I can’t adequately express it (apart from Scripture), but I can definitely point out examples like this where they get it wrong.

  6. Both men and women fall into this trap of hoping a woman or a man will “complete” them. None of us can truly live up to all the expectations built up for that kind of union. When you combine that with the fact that our society seems bent on prolonging adolescence indefinitely… well, it’s a recipe for disaster.

  7. Wow, I understand your point, but I think you may have taken it too far. I don’t agree with the whole idolatry idea. She is obviously a strong Christian, he sees that and recognizes it clearly maybe even thru his drunken haze. She is showing him the Way and he is still struggling with his sins as we all do, but he believes the devil doesn’t stand a chance up against this strong Christian. With her guidance, he might just make it.

  8. As one of the largest Eric Church fans you will ever meet, I have to agree with your summarization of the song. However when it comes to the ending where you state that the song says men do not need to grow up, and are free to do as they please, I respectfully disagree. Church’s transformation from his first album (“Sinners Like Me”) to his 3rd (“Chief”) has been incredible. Not only his personal change, but musically as well. To me, “Like Jesus Does” is more of a tribute to the love of his life and her ability to forgive him for any wrongdoings and his sinful ways, and how we is trying to change for the better, but life as an outlaw country singer makes that incredibly difficult.

    When he says “I’m a back row sinner at a tent revival” it is his way of saying that he does try and change, although he may not be completely dedicated. If you look through other songs of his such as “Love Your Love The Most” it is a song where he describes all the things he loves the most in life, but at the end of the day her love and affection are what keep him going. It can be hard to get a solid read on Church (he is happily married with a son) based off his albums. They include songs like “Like Jesus Does”, which are touching songs that say how great the love his wife has for him is, on the other hand there is “Over When Its Over” which is about how a couple has tried to maintain a relationship, but needed to just admit when it was over. This is what makes him such an incredible songwriter and artist, his ability to portray so many different emotions and moments that makes each album unique and very diverse. I suggest you listen to a variety of his music! Who knows, you could become a HUGE fan like I am!!

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