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Simple Man – Lynyrd Skynyrd and a Biblical Word Study

Simple Man – Lynyrd Skynyrd and a Biblical Word Study The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show

The lyrics to the Lynyrd Skynyrd song ‘Simple Man’ are playing in my head today, and I have questions. Like, why didn’t anyone give this boy more to go on than this when he was young? And where were his advisors and guides when he got older? And why was being a simple man the thing to shoot for? And where was his father?

To be sure, we today don’t mean the same thing by “simple man” that the Bible does. But maybe that’s the sticking point. Maybe that is part of the problem. When you do a word search of “simple” in the ESV at BibleGateway.com, you get 19 results that are all along the same lines to one another. None of them paint being a simple man in a positive light.

“Surely vexation kills the fool, and jealousy slays the simple.”

Job 5:2

“The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me.”

Psalm 116:6

“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”

Proverbs 22:3, 27:12

This is to say, we clearly need more to go on than being a “simple man,” at least if we want saved instead of suffering and being slain. And we should want that! Biblical simplicity is presented as comparable to being foolish. And the cure is to get knowledge, understanding, and prudence.

Admittedly, someone who loves this song will interject here that what is being sung about is contentedness. Yet the appropriate rejoinder to such an interjection is that there is such a thing as being content about the wrong things, or for the wrong reasons, or to a bad end.

But this also reminds me of what we in our day think of as being the opposite of “simple.” And the answer to that question is pretty obviously “complicated.” Like the Relationship Status option on Facebook, “It’s complicated” means we do not have a quick and tidy answer to the question of what our situation precisely is. What’s more, answering “It’s complicated” for the drop-down is also an admission that such is liable to continue to be the case indefinitely into the future, and that we are more or less content with that.

And this in turn reminds me of why I make a living doing what I do as a Systems Integrator. The word “systems” to describe what I work with is simple enough. But just try explaining what all goes into making said systems, or keeping them going, or working within them. You’ll appreciate that both knowledge and understanding are needed to do more help than harm, and that one cannot always afford to commit to things being “simple,” per se. Nor would it do for someone in my position to respond to requests from other stakeholders to configure or reconfigure some part of our systems with platitudes about the virtues of simplicity and contentment in the abstract.

On a related note, how do we know we’re doing well? Whether we’re talking about an individual person, household, church, corporation, or nation – what is our rubric? It may be simple in every sense – the Biblical one included – to only consider the material factors when making such a determination. But sooner or later the spiritual condition becomes more readily apparent in its physical ramifications. Yet the simple will go on and refuse to reckon with this until the bad consequences are paid.

In other news, I have a tendency to use big and unfamiliar words in conversation and my writing. To be sure, I at least really don’t think I’m trying to dunk or flex on anyone. But the flip-side is that I often appreciate when I read or hear unfamiliar words and phrases I’ve never encountered before, so long as I have the time and ability to look them up or ask what they mean, because that’s where and how learning happens. But not everyone is this way. Some folk don’t appreciate unfamiliar words being used, and they can get the impression I’m showing off. And that’s something to work on, I suppose.

On a related note, it really is possible to be too nice. And how can we know the difference between being nice in a truly nice way and being “too nice”? Only this: the answer is found in determining whether we are loving God and others well by our niceness. Here we should not conceive a test of emotional state, but an examination of purpose and end-goals and whether what is being done and said is objectively true and good and beneficial and profitable to those we would say we are loving by being nice to them.

For instance, would we classify the 19 verses that come up when we search the ESV for “simple” as being “nice,” or would we instead say that these are given to us for our holistic benefit? No one wants to hear suggestions they are simple in the Biblical sense. But then neither should a wise person want to be simple instead of wise and no one say a word about it to them that would provide an opportunity to correct the deficiency of either knowledge or understanding.

What I don’t mean is that we should be mean. But what I am trying to convey is that loving God and one another well requires at a minimum that we not give our young boys advice like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s mother gave him when he was young – to be simple. So also where others besides are asking for and getting input from us. If it wouldn’t be good counsel to our young sons, it’s not serving anyone else well either.

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