Single Review: Reba McEntire, “Back to God”

“Back to God”
Reba McEntire

Written by Dallas Davidson and Randy Houser

Have you ever heard the story of the Drowning Man?

Variations of it exist in most denominations of Christianity. Perhaps in other religions, too. Here’s an example of it:

A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.

Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.”

The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.”

So the rowboat went on.

Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.”

To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”

So the motorboat went on.

Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.”

To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.”

So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.

Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”

To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

“Back to God” is the musical equivalent of the story above: prayer divorced from action. According to this song, the whole world will be saved – and your broken heart, too! – if you just get down on your knees and pray to God.

Oddly, the song is dismissive of “making a wish” in the second verse, despite it being built around the idea that God is essentially a genie waiting around for us to ask him to do stuff for us. It’s reflective of the recent trend after a tragedy, where our legislators and leaders rush to the microphones to let us know they’re praying for the lives lost and that a similar tragedy doesn’t happen again, as if they don’t have the power to do anything, despite being the ones who were elected to do something. Like God didn’t give us free will, and he’s making all of our decisions on our behalf.  You know, if we pray.

Dr. King once said that, “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles. Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances.”  Reba sings “Back to God” beautifully, and her heart is truly in it. But at its core, the song advocates cowardice, not courage. God will give us the strength and fortitude to make this world a better place, but we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get to work for it to happen. Those who do so? They’ll be the answer to the world’s prayers, as God works through them.

Grade: C


  1. Right. It’s like that quote that prayer doesn’t change God, it changes you. There definitely needs to be action in conjunction with prayer. I think it’s telling that many conservatives (who, oddly or not, tend to be Christian) ridicule liberals for protesting and the like. So, not only do they not take action, but they condemn it. It’s very odd to me.

  2. Great review. I’ve seen the “I Sent You a Rowboat” quote many times, most recently watching an old “West Wing” episode a few nights ago and in reading J.D. Vance’s 2016 NY Times Bestseller, “Hillbilly Elegy”, a few weeks ago. Those legislators you mention only suggest prayer so their Not Responsible for Anything corporate sponsors won’t shut down the gravy train.

  3. I was hoping that Reba would pick a song of real truth and strength after “Just Like Them Horses”- which was such a graceful and decent song. But this crap by Dallas Davidson is as hollow as a chocolate Easter egg. Maybe this is the secret to why he is such a bad songwriter. He prays and hopes God will do the rest. Pandering with God is always so disrespectful to those people who are true believers. I am not one. But I respect people who are, and I hate when songwriters use their belief in a cheap way.

  4. Somehow I am not surprised something like this was penned by Dallas Davidson.

    J.D. Vance’s 2016 NY Times Bestseller, “Hillbilly Elegy”

    Completely off-topic, but this is an excellent book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

  5. I think the song is more nuanced than it is given credit for. I am uncomfortable relegating all Dallas Davidson penned songs to the refuse heap as matter of course; as if he is an incapable and incompetent songwriter. The tension identified in the review, perhaps more so than actually in the song, is that of the relationship of faith to action. The book of James in the New Testament speaks directly to this relationship; James 2:26 reads,”For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” I guess the challenge of the song is that it triggers in us both a theological and musical response. Where do we find God, if at all, in that dynamic tension? In a wonderful way Kevin has the courage to consider politics, faith, and Reba in a single review. It brings to mind the title of the 1996 Sammy Kershaw album “Politics, Religion, and Her.”

  6. I remember hearing Randy Houser’s version years ago. I never saw this song as being a ‘make a wish’ message. To me, it’s about a change of heart. It starts with desire. ‘I want my heart to change toward Godly things and I need Your help in getting there, Lord. My life has had struggles and I don’t know how to handle them so I’m turning it over to You and I’ll keep praying for Your wisdom, Your answers, and Your solutions. And I also pray that others will have this same desire. I want us to give this world back to You and Your influence. Lead us and show us the way, Lord.’

    That’s my interpretation of the song. A person can struggle with life’s problems and can have the best of intentions. But if your actions aren’t being led by God then you won’t accomplish very much.

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