Most of us have had hard experiences in life. From things like accidentally hitting our thumb with a hammer, losing all of our files when a computer crashes, failing to make the basketball team, or studying hard for an exam, only to fail by one point; to much bigger disappointments like being abandoned by a parent, not having a significant other, getting a divorce, or losing a job.
Disappointment is simply part of the reality of living in a fallen world. We are all searching for something that we can put our trust in, something or someone we can count on to be there when all else fails. For some, their trust is in how much they own. For others, their trust is wrapped up in a parent or a significant other. However, material things will deteriorate, we will let ourselves down, and others will leave us. These are the realities with which Combs begins his song.
I’ve had a largemouth bass bust my line
A couple beautiful girls tell me, “Goodbye”
Trucks break down, dogs run off,
Politicians lie, been fired by the boss
It takes one hand to count the things I can count on
No, there ain’t much, man, that ain’t ever let me down
It’s hard not to agree with that little tagline at the end. There isn’t really much that we can count on in this life. All the things that let Combs down were people or things that could never ultimately supply the stability that he was seeking.
Combs lists all of these disappointments in the same verse. But losing that big fish at the last moment is fleeting disappointment. An hour after the fish is swimming away happily, we’re telling our friends the story for entertainment. Similarly, when your favorite team loses the Superbowl, you may be sad, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t make much difference to your life.
However, going through a breakup, getting fired from a job, and constantly having your trust broken are far weightier things. When a significant other or spouse decides to leave, there can be anger and a whole host of difficult questions to face. “Wasn’t I good enough?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Will anyone ever love me?” When we get fired from a job, we start to doubt ourselves. “Why can’t I be successful like other people?” These questions take time to work through, and the journey through them is often painful.
The fact that we can put a fish escaping us and a relationship breakup in the same category of disappointment shows how desperate we have become in looking for something we can trust, and how cynical we have become of ever actually finding anything trustworthy. Into this quagmire, Combs suggests that he has found that one thing: beer.
Another Thing We Can’t Count On
Long-neck ice cold beer never broke my heart
Like diamond rings and football teams have torn this boy apart
Like a neon dream, it just dawned on me, that bars and this guitar
And long-neck ice-cold beer never broke my heart
When all else fails, beer is there. We can drown our sorrows, get a little loose with our friends, and forget about our problems. Beer never let anyone down, right? Well, not exactly. Beer, like anything else, has been abused, and there are a lot of people who are dealing with the consequences. There are broken lives all around us that testify to the failure of beer. It may have quenched one’s thirst for a moment, but it could never really satisfy. When the bottle is empty and the hangover has dissipated, our sorrows are still there to face us. Too much beer simply puts them away for a few hours so we can think about them later (only this time with a massive headache).
To be clear, I’m not trying to pick on beer in particular. Of course, I realize that for a whole lot of people, going out to have a beer doesn’t mean getting drunk. This isn’t an article about why we should or shouldn’t drink beer—and if so, how much we should or shouldn’t drink. I also realize that beer is kind of a country cliché that appears in a lot of songs. Is Combs suggesting that we can really put our trust in beer? I doubt it, we all know that beer won’t satisfy us in the long run. The question is, what will? What can we ultimately put our trust in?
Trust in the Wilderness of Disappointment
You probably know what’s coming next—”God is the one we can really trust!” The Psalms affirm over and over that God is a rock, an anchor worthy of trust. In Psalm 37:25, King David remarks that he has been both young and old, and yet, he has never seen the righteous forsaken. Great! Except that in the same book of Psalms, the psalmists cry out to God, asking why he is distant, why he does nothing about evil, and why he forsakes them.
This is why the Sunday school answer simply will not do. Scripture affirms that God is a good and trustworthy God who can be depended upon to do what is right and best for his glory and our good; but it won’t always feel that way. Sometimes, it will feel like we are alone and that God has left us. It may even feel like God is disappointed in us or against us. Even when we are seeking God, we will have times of wandering in the wilderness, seemingly alone.
Jesus himself went through the wilderness of disappointment. After all he had told the disciples, three years of teaching and rebuking, still Phillip can say just before his crucifixion, “show us the Father” (John 14:8-14). I don’t think I could have handled it if I was Jesus. “Seriously, Phillip! Do you pay any attention to what I say?! What is your problem?! You are such a disappointment. That’s it, I’m getting a new group of disciples.” But Jesus doesn’t do that. He remains loyal to his disciples, even when they all abandon him. On the cross, Jesus can cry out along with the writer of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, NIV)
We all will experience disappointments and walk through the lonely places. As N. T. Wright says, “It is part of the deal.”² However, Scripture also affirms over and over that even in the wilderness, God is there. As Christians, we carry with us the assurance that God never leaves us or forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).
When we are in the wilderness of disappointment, we are called to walk faithfully. When we face disappointment we should ask, “what is God trying to show me about himself” or “how does God want me to grow?”³ We ask this, because God is not like an ice cold beer that simply helps us to forget for a while. God doesn’t want to cover things over, he wants to remake us in the image of his Son.
Of course, the easier thing to do would be to turn to something else that we hope won’t let us down—like beer. We don’t want to walk through the wilderness. We want a God who is safe. Who always gives us what we want and keeps us happy. As Christians, we don’t get that kind of assurance. The assurance that we do get is the same assurance that Mr. Beaver gives about Aslan: “Safe . . . Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he ain’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”4
We can trust God’s goodness. A goodness that has proved itself over and over again in the Scriptures, in the lives of the saints, and in the everyday experiences of millions of Christians. Easy? Painless? Safe? No. But Good? Yes.
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