Question: Can you comment on the first verse of the song “God is So Good To Me” from the new Legacy song book, "Wonderful Name"? I’ve heard several people say it is not scriptural and should not be sung.
Answer: Before getting into the particulars of this song, it seems necessary to point out a fundamental fact about song lyrics – but one that seems lost on many people. Song lyrics almost always involve poetic language. This is true of the massive collection of song lyrics in the Old Testament we call The Book of Psalms. Some of the poetic features used in Psalms include: personification (where inanimate objects like trees, rocks, and water are said to do things that only intelligent beings could do (Psalm 98.8)), metaphor (where a person, like God, is said to be something in a figurative sense in order to describes some aspect of His character or nature (Psalm 18.31)), anthropomorphism (where spiritual beings, like God, are describes as having physical characteristics (Psalm 17.6)), anthropopathy (where God, who being omniscient would not actually experience some of the emotions of men, is said to have those emotions (Psalm 74.22)), etc.
Because of the figurative and symbolic nature of poetic language, there are several occasions in the Book of Psalms when taking the words literally would result in false doctrine. For example, in Psalm 58.3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” If taken literally, this teaches that infants (at least some of them) are separated from God even in the womb. However, it is absurd to take this statement literally: no one speaks as soon as he is born, lies or otherwise. This is a poetic hyperbole – an exaggeration for the purpose of emphasis. It means that those who become heinous sinners usually begin their criminal career early in life.
It may be that some people are not comfortable with poetic language and would prefer instead wooden literalism. However, scripture clearly shows that God has authorized the use of poetry in worship (Colossians 3.16; Ephesians 5.19), and has used poetry Himself in His revelation! Consequently, it is altogether inappropriate to brand an expression as unscriptural, simply because it is poetic, figurative, or accommodative. While there are certainly some unscriptural songs, we should be prudent before taking our penknives to the hymnal and ask if there is perhaps a poetic meaning that we are missing in these words.
With these thoughts in mind, let us consider the verse in question from the song, “God is So Good to Me” by Videt Polk.
The first verse begins: “From up in heaven one day God looked down, saw that the souls of men downward were bound…” Some object that this statement impugns the omniscience of God. They challenge that God knows all things, so it is wrong to speak of Him “looking down one day.” Let the reader consider Psalm 102.19-21: “For He looked down from the height of His sanctuary; From heaven the LORD viewed the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoner, to release those appointed to death, to declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and His praise in Jerusalem...” Also, Psalm 14.2-3: “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, no, not one.” One responds, “That is just poetry!” Indeed, and so is the modern song lyric. In fact, it seems obvious that the song writer had a better familiarity with the scripture than his critics and borrowed the expression straight from the pages of the Bible.
The song in question continues: “It made Him so sad, He wanted a way that saved they might be…” Some challenge that this expression depicts God as unprepared for the sin of man and denies the eternal foreordination of the gospel. However, let the reader note Genesis 6.6-7, “And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’” Also, 1 Samuel 15.10-11, “Now the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, ‘I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.’” One responds, “That is accommodative language!” Indeed, and so is the modern song lyric. As stated above, it is most likely that the lyricist borrowed the expression from the Bible.
Finally, the song states: “After all else had failed God sent His son….” Some challenge that this makes the mission of Jesus a last-ditch effort, rather than the consummation of history. Yet, once more, the reader should note Matthew 21.33-39: “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.” One responds, “But that is the figurative language of parables!” Indeed, and the lyric is the figurative language of songs. Once more I suggest that the writer borrowed his expression from the Bible itself.
I find nothing harmful in the lyrics of this song. With all due respect to the conscientious and concerned whose only desire it is to please God, we need to realize that God has chosen the language of poetry as a part of His system, and He has included it in worship! If you find a song lyric that seems disconcerting, seek out a knowledgeable brother – perhaps the brother who edited and published the song book, and ask for guidance in how to sing that song with the spirit and the understanding. Your worship life will be richer and better for it.