With Bill Lee going from governor-elect to governor next week, many have been speculating about what to expect from him during his administration. Here’s what I think about that question.
My expectations for Lee’s administration began to crystalize over the week as I thought about last Sunday’s sermon when the pastor taught on Psalm 4. It’s a psalm written by King David, a “politician” in his own right. It was written “for the musicians” and was, therefore, presumably one of the psalms that would have been used in public worship.
That King David wrote it for public consumption is what made the question he posed and answered in verse 4 stick out to me. He said, “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’”
I couldn’t help but wonder if those who said that to King David might have been at least subconsciously asking him, as we might be asking of Bill Lee, “What good thing or things are you going to do for us?”
But David, instead of issuing a list of past accomplishments and setting forth his royal “political” agenda for the coming year (which is what politicians and political parties do now, often based on poll results), answered this way: “LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us.”
Now, why in the world would King David effectively say to his “constituents,” “Hey, don’t look at me. Look to God. The good we all need is going to come from God smiling down on us”?
Here’s what I think David would tell us, (and actually I think he did!), and then I’ll tell you how it relates to my expectations of Bill Lee.
Why David Answered the Way He Did
My first thought as to the reason for his answer was to turn to Psalm 51. There we’re told what David said after a prophet of God confronted him about his adulterous dalliance with Bathsheba, the wife of one of David’s soldiers: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (verse 5).
King David knows that, in God’s sight, there is no innate good in him, and, in Psalm 4, I think he is effectively telling his “constituents” that if they are waiting on him personally to provide the good for which they are looking, then they may be waiting a long time.
That interpretation of Psalm 4 probably sounds strange to most modern ears, even to many Christians. It seems to be stretching and extrapolating a bit too much from what David said in Psalm 51. After all, we all know people, even atheists, who do what appears to be “good things.” So what’s God got to do with whether Bill Lee will “show us any good”?
David’s ‘Self-image’ Problem Hits Bottom
That last observation and question are good ones. The question is one for which I probably had no really good answer a year ago. No doubt, some won’t like the one I have now, but here it is.
In the past, I probably would have said that all David was saying in Psalm 51 was that he has never been and will never be as good a person as God, comparatively speaking.
But I think it’s far more than that, because David also wrote these words found in Psalms 14 and 53, which the Apostle Paul quotes in Romans 3:10–11:
There is none righteous, not even one.
There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God.
There is none who does good, there is not even one.
Whoa! Say that last sentence again. No good from anybody? Come on!
How Is It That We Do Good Things?
The answer to this question calls for a longer answer than space allows, but here’s a thumbnail sketch of how I would answer.
The Christian believes the good he or she does is because of the saving grace of God. God’s Spirit begins to work in them to foster a love of what God says is good so that they become increasingly willing to choose what it is good (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 1:11, 2:10). Notice that David began Psalm 4 by referring to God as “my righteousness,” not touting his own.
But what about the atheist? I believe the answer to the good he or she does relates to a doctrine little discussed in broader Christian circles nowadays called “common grace.”
Common grace, as I understand it, means God restrains the evil in those who, unlike David, do not look to Him for their righteousness. In some, that restraint is greater, and in others less; think Stephen Hawking vis a vis Joseph Stalin. Hawking made some amazing scientific discoveries while actually mocking the God who gave Him his brilliant mind, while Stalin killed millions of people.
Here’s the way Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it in The Gulag Archipelago:
Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an un-uprooted small corner of evil.
These two kinds of grace work to bring about good because the image of God in all of us, though marred by the sin in us, was not abolished. For example, we all still think and create and, by virtue of the saving grace of God in some and His gracious restraint of evil in others, what we think or create can accomplish good. This means that our actions as God’s image bearers have real meaning, for good or evil.
However, because we live at the intersection of God’s work either by saving grace or common grace, the Christian joins the author of James in saying, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights (1:17),” the very person to whose lighted countenance David said his people should look for the good.
How This Applies to Bill Lee
So, Bill, if I may still call you that, the pressure is off you as far as I’m concerned to be the source of the good we need because King David got it right—I need to look to God for that. But I am looking forward to seeing what good things God does through you.
Now, Bill, that doesn’t mean I won’t be giving you my input about your policies and actions or letting others know about them, because they will have real consequences for good or evil.
But for now, this is my input, and it’s the prayer I’m asking God to grant with respect to you, taken from Proverbs 3:5–8:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.
If you do that every day and throughout the day, then that sounds good to me!
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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