Where in the World do we Fit?
Bible Text: Psalm 8:1 – 9 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Psalms – Songs of Praise | Psalm 8
Where in the World do we fit?
Where in the world do we fit?
Boxing Day 2004, an earthquake off the cost of Indonesia causes a tsunami, killing 230,000 people.
Christchurch, New Zealand, 2011, Earthquake, 185 people dead.
Tōhoku, Japan, also 2011, 15,000 people killed, absolutely powerless against an earthquake and tsunami.
In Canada, a town mourns as 2 small boys are killed in their sleep by a pet python.
On the front page of the paper just this week, the comment from India, that an elephant that performs in Hindu religious festivals, has the right to kill a human or 2, without anyone raising any objections.
Which life is considered more valuable?
What is the relationship between humanity, and the rest of creation?
Are humans different, or special?
Are in we control of this world, or not?
In Syria, 1300 civilians apparently gassed to death.
A human considered of such little worth, it can be snuffed out, for political gains.
In the US this week, an Australian man is gunned down in cold blood, so 3 bored teenagers can watch someone die.
What value is attached to a human life?
How are we to see humans within God’s creation?
And how ought we relate to the rest of what God has created?
What value does a human life have?
And why does it have that value?
These are some of the questions we’ll try and find answers to in Psalm 8.
Context is king
The author C S Lewis, famous for The Chronicles of Narnia, also wrote a book called Reflections on the Psalms,
And in it, he describes Psalm 8, as “An expression of wonder at man (mankind), and man’s place in nature.”
And that’s not a bad description, is it?
We see humanity,
We see the wonder at who God has created humans to be,
And amazement at how we as created beings relate to the rest of creation.
But for a Psalm with so much to say about humans, that’s not where it begins is it?
King David, who we see from the title, wrote this Psalm, teaches us about us about ourselves, about humanity, by starting with God.
He starts with a God, who has all-surpassing majesty,
Who has established the heavens, the earth, and all of creation,
And it’s within that context, that David starts to reflect, to teach, on where we fit, in the world.
That is to say, David knows, that we will never truly understand ourselves, until we understand God,
Until we see ourselves in the context of God and his creation.
One of the first lessons I learnt at theological college, when I was learning to read and understand and teach the Bible was the phrase, “context is king.”
You want to understand this word, this phrase, you need to look at the context;, what else is going on around the words in question.
Well David would say the same thing, about coming to grips with who we are, in this world.
Context is king.
We can’t understand humanity, if we seek to divorce humanity from God,
From what God has entrusted to us, and what God wants from us.
God is excellent!
And the first thing that David wants us to see about God, is that God is excellent!
LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.
LORD, in all capital letters there, shows us that David uses God’s personal name Yahweh,
The name by which God had revealed himself to the people of Israel.
But the God of Israel isn’t just God over Israel, his name is majestic in all the earth! The entire heavens display his glory.
Something of who God is, can be seen in the majesty of what he’s created.
And God reigns over all of it!
Of course, if he is the God of all the earth, it means he’s not just the God of Christians who gather in Littlehampton.
He’s the God of all in our region, and all of our region,
He is the God of in our city, and beyond.
There is nothing and no one left outside his rule and authority.
And this God, who is praised and glorified by all heaven and earth,
Who constantly hears the songs of angels, he delights to hear the praises of little children.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
David might mean literal children and infants. he might be speaking more figuratively for those who are weak and seemingly insignificant.
But the point is the same regardless!
Those who are weak, and insignificant, seemingly of no value, in the world, they are actually able to understand and speak spiritual truths, that those who set themselves up against God are blind to.
Both the glory heavens and the earth, and the lips of the weak and lowly, tell us that God is excellent, no one compares to him!
Humans appear insignificant in God’s creation
And in that context, David turns his attention, to the place of humanity in God’s creation.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them
This is written for Adelaide Hills dwellers, isn’t it?
We know what it’s like, to look up to the sky at night, and to see it filled with stars.
And no doubt David, looking after his family’s sheep on the hills outside Bethlehem, could remember countless nights, staring into the heavens, and realising, that in comparison to the vast expanse he could see, he was very small.
When we see something of the heavens, the moon and the stars, set in their place by God, humans appear insignificant.
I’ve got a scale model of the universe here, with a bit of help from Johns Hopkins University.
This will hopefully help us get some perspective.
This orange is the sun,
I chose an orange because it sort of looks like the sun, doesn’t it?!
This is smaller than the actual sun, obviously, which is nearly 1.4 million kilometres across. It’s a scale model, remember!
So there’s the sun, our nearest star.
On this scale, earth, is .76 of a millimetre in diameter, about as big as a sugar crystal.
And it doesn’t just kind of sit there, next to the sun,
The distance from the sun, to earth, on this scale, is about the distance, from that wall of the gym, to that wall.
Orange there, Sugar crystal there,
Again on this scale, the next nearest star, after our sun, is Proxima Centauri, which is about 4.3 light years away, or 42 trillion kilometres.
To put that on our model, with our orange sun there, and the earth, a sugar crystal over there, Proxima Centuri, is a ping pong ball, in the centre of the CBD, of Brisbane.
That is the nearest star, of perhaps hundreds of billions of stars.
Nathan Tasker sang a line in his concert last night, “You made a sea of endless stars. I’d have been impressed with just one!”
Just one million kilometre ball of flaming gas would be amazing and awe-inspiring enough!
God made, well, we can’t even count.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind, that you are mindful of them,
It is staggering, that the God who spoke that into being, is even mindful of humans.
And yet, as David marvels, it’s not just that we’re on God’s mind;, but that he cares for us.
Jesus tells his disciples that God knows even the number of hairs on our head!
Now, I love my children,
I try and make sure I am always mindful of them,
And yet, I couldn’t even hazard a guess, at the number of hairs on their heads.
And I’ve only got 3 children!
It is remarkable, that God would care for us, considering how small we are, in this vast universe God has made.
Psalm 8 offers a corrective to ego-centrism
And our apparent insignificance, offers a corrective to an error that, I imagine, many of us easily fall into;
That is, the error of ego-centrism, of thinking that all that matters is me.
That the only thing of any significance, is me as an individual, or humanity, more generally.
It was Protagorus, the Greek philosopher, who coined the term, “Man is the measure of all things.”
Today when people quote that phrase, they tend to mean, according to my cultural dictionary, “that the individual human being, is the ultimate of meaning, and value and, and significance”, the only way of determining right or wrong, good or bad.
That’s probably not what Protagorus meant by it, he was quite perplexed and troubled by the brevity of human life, in the scale of the universe.
But often today, the individual is seen as the ultimate or sole source of meaning, value, and significance.
Whatever I decide, that’s what matters.
No, here is the corrective to thinking that I am at the centre of all things,
That things only have meaning when I give it,
Or that something has no value or significance, until I offer it.
What does David do?
He reminds me of the heavens.
They are the work of God’s fingers!
I am a microscopic dot, dwarfed between that wall, and that wall, and the CBD of Brisbane!
And the heavens are vast and magnificent,
And yet the God who stands behind them is so much infinitely greater even than the heavens, that they are just the work of his fingers!
We were at a friends’ house last week, and our daughter Abby, who is 20 months old, found a texta, and decorated a small portion of our friends’ wall!
There’s now a nice little purple patch, on the white wall!
I told them to leave it there, in case she becomes a famous artist, and it will be worth a lot of money!
That purple scribble is the work of Abby’s fingers,
And that little creative effort, is what the heavens are, to God.
But they defy our understanding.
The Voyager 1 spacecraft is at the edge of our solar system, and the leading scientists in the world, can’t make sense of the data it’s sending back, we just don’t understand!
And that space craft, on our scale, with the sun there, earth there, and the next nearest star in Brisbane, Voyager 1, is just about approaching roundabout in the main street of Littlehampton.
We can understand just such a tiny amount, and yet this universe, was dreamed up by God,
It is the product of his mind, the work of his hands.
He brought it into existence.
In fact they are his heavens, David says.
Whenever I’m tempted to think, that the universe revolves around me,
Or that it exists for my pleasure, and enjoyment,
When things don’t pan out the way I expect, and I’m tempted to think that something’s gone wrong, that creation has lost its way, because my ends and wants and priorities aren’t being served,
This picture, of the vastness of the universe, and the majesty of the God who stands behind it, and brought it into existence, such that to call it the work of his fingers, a bit of purple scribble on the wall, is the best metaphor to describe God in relation to it,
This picture, will correct my ego-centrism, won’t it?
When I consider God’s heavens,
The moon and the stars, which he set in their place
Equally, whenever I hear that phrase, used as it is, “man is the measure of all things”,
Or the pop psychology phrases that are tossed about, and which clog up my Facebook Newsfeed, “You can do anything you set your mind to”
“You are the master of your own destiny”
“No one or nothing has influence over you, unless you allow it”
“Tomorrow will always be better than today”
In that moment when I’m tempted to think,
Here’s an appealing way to look at the world,
I need to read Psalm 8, don’t I?
Psalm 8 corrects that ego-centrism, that human centrism,
It makes sense of why there are forces and events which we are powerless against, and which we don’t even understand.
Of all that God created, we are a small part.
Humans could not be more significant in God’s creation
And yet, the flip side of that apparent insignificance, is that in reality, humans are small, but we could not be more significant in God’s creation.
There is nothing more significant, endowed with more meaning, or purpose, or potential, than human beings.
Look at how David goes on to describe us, in creation.
Verse 5, You have made them a little lower than the angels v
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
David describes our place in creation, by talking about our position, and our purpose.
When God established this boundless, unfathomable universe, he created us, as the pinnacle. Our position is, a little lower than the angels, or as the NIV footnote says, a little lower than God.
The original language there points us back to the creation account in Genesis 1, where God creates man in his own image.
We are crowned with glory and honour, and yet we’ve seen that it’s God who is truly glorious, verse 1, And if the immensity of creation teaches us anything about God, surely it’s that he alone deserves honour,
See the position which we hold, the glory and honour we enjoy, are given to us by God, that’s clear in verse 5, but it’s also true that they are God’s own glory and honour, that he bestows on us.
God says we are the pinnacle of this awe-inspiring creation.
And yet not only we enjoy a lofty position in creation, humanity is entrusted with a unique purpose; We are called upon to rule the earth, under God.
Some of you will be familiar with 2 Ways to Live, a little outline of the Christian faith. It begins with the statement,
God is the loving ruler of the world. He made the world. He made us rulers of the world under him
That’s the truth captured here in Psalm 8.
What is placed under humanity’s rule, in verses 6 to 8?
Everything under their feet,
All flocks and herds,
And the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
God has delegated to us, the rule of his creation.
Particularly in focus here is the part of his creation that we most easily have influence over, the earth, the animals.
But isn’t it true that, as science, and exploration, further the boundaries of human knowledge and of human experience, then our dominion, our rule, increases.
We have, to some degree harnessed space, we use space for communications, and research, and maybe even one day, for travel.
When we discover new things on earth, our rule extends to that newly discovered part of creation too, so that we actually see our rule and dominion over creation in ways that David couldn’t even dream of,
Even though, as we’ll think about some more in a moment, our rule is only partial.
The term that the scholars use to describe this rule that humanity exercises under God but over creation, is “vice-regal.”
It’s the term we use to describe our state governors.
The Queen is the head of state in Australia, and the state governors, are appointed by the Queen, to do the business of ruling and governing, under the Queen’s authority.
The Queen can’t possibly sign into law, every bill,
From every parliament,
Of every state,
In every country, of her dominion!
So she appoints Governors to do the bill signing,
And the cutting of ribbons,
And the kissing of babies.
Of course, it’s not that God can’t rule the earth, personally, but as a reflection of the value he places on us, we are responsible for managing, ruling, stewarding his creation.
Psalm 8 offers a corrective to feelings of worthlessness
And because David paints such an exalted picture of humanity here, with a unique position and purpose in creation, the Psalm offers us a second corrective:, A perspective to correct feelings of worthlessness.
See maybe, that earlier problem I mentioned, thinking that the world revolves around me, maybe that’s not really an issue for some of us.
Perhaps for some here, we’re, right, at the other end of the spectrum. Maybe our error, your error, isn’t egocentrism, but feelings of worthlessness,
400 years or so before Jesus, the philosopher Plato defined man in his book “Statesman”, as a featherless biped. That is, an animal with 2 legs, and without feathers.
That’s a pretty low view of humanity isn’t it?
Fortunately a man named Diogenes saw the flaw in Plato’s definition, plucked a chicken, and let it loose in the academy where Plato taught, saying “Behold! Plato’s man”
No surprise that Diogenes went on to found the school of philosophy known as the cynics!
But you and I know that it’s not just ancient Greek philosophers who would hold such a low view of humankind.
We know people, plagued, crippled even, by feelings of worthlessness.
Hannah Smith, was a 14 year old girl from the UK, who committed suicide after receiving a torrent of hateful and abusive messages online, including one comment which commanded her to “drink bleach.”
After her suicide, it was discovered, that of those hateful comments, despising Hannah as a person,
Labelling her as worthless,
Comments wishing she was dead,
98% of those comments, were made by Hannah herself.
Obviously that is an incredibly complex situation, and few if any of us are probably able to unravel what’s going on in a young woman’s mind, that would make her sabotage her own life like that,
But in 2010, a leading social media researcher pointed out this very trend, where teenagers and young adults, attack themselves, and belittle themselves online, from behind false personas.
On report found that 10% of high schoolers, had said these things publicly, to themselves.
You’re of no value,
The world would be better off with you gone.
If only, someone would speak to those young people, of what Psalm 8 says,
If only someone would paint them a picture, of how God, the supreme creator of the vast incalculable universe sees them!, Crowned with his own glory and honour.
And if that’s you, whether at that extreme, or whether perhaps it’s just moments here and there, when you doubt your own value,
When you call into question your worth,
Because of your failings,
Because of your sin,
Because of what you do,
Or because of what you don’t do,
If that’s you, please hear these words,
Hear this corrective,
See this picture,
And if that’s not you, but someone you know,
Please speak these words,
Gently offer this corrective,
Graciously paint this picture.
Of course there is a whole other world of issues that this Psalm’s picture of humanity speaks into.
It points to the folly of us, as those who are to rule creation, allowing ourselves to be ruled by created things.
Whether that be money, which so easily rules over us, doesn’t it?
Or some other person,
Some possession, that we allow to reign over us, thereby turning God’s order of creation upside down.
Psalm 8 tells us, nothing ought to rule over us, besides God.
The Psalm also speaks its corrective against those who would seek to de-value human life, doesn’t it?
The atheist ethicists, the Peter Singer’s of this world, who would argue that the value of a human being is determined by their ability to make rational decisions, their self-consciousness, and therefore, the life of a baby, or a disabled person, is of less value, than, and I quote, “the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”
Psalm 8 says no! Though the image of God in us is fractured because of sin, humans still hold this position and function in creation, and our value isn’t determined by what we are capable of.
And yet, lest we enjoy pointing the finger, at those who we see so classically fail to grasp this picture and put it into practice,
Let me lob, just one grenade, and not deal with it! But maybe it’s something to continue in conversation over coffee afterwards,
That is, note in verse 4, and verse 5, who, is being spoken of.
Which category of people.
What does it say? “What is middle-class western humanity, that you are mindful of them?
Rich, western Christians, that you crowned with glory and honour”?
While the boat people,
And the foreign garment workers,
And the homeless people,
And the unemployed, exist in some other category, made subject to the rich middle class Christian humanity.
No, No, No, No.
What is mankind, that you are mindful of them?
Crowned, with glory and honour,
Rulers over the works of God’s hands
This value, is imputed by God to all people.
As I said, maybe that’s worth talking about over tea & coffee.
But where do we see this?
But if we think back to where we started,
Where do we see this?
Where do we see everything under the feet of humans?
Where do we see our rule of creation, as it is apparently supposed to be?
And the answer is, we don’t really, do we?
We don’t see this now!
And the reason that we don’t rule the world as this Psalm pictures, and as we were intended to, is because we’ve thrown off this picture of humanity,
We’ve thrown away this description of humanity, and tried to replace it with our own.
Each and every person who has ever lived, has ditched the notion of humanity ruling God’s creation under God, and we’ve held a coup!
We still want to rule, just not under God!
So we try and rule our own lives, and we try and rule creation, without acknowledging God’s right to rule over us as creator.
It’s what the Bible calls sin, throwing off God’s rule, and God’s pattern of life,
But we fail to rule our lives well.
And we fail to rule creation well.
And often human lives aren’t treated with the dignity, or given the value they deserve.
And sometimes we don’t rule creation, but find ourselves powerless against at.
So is the Psalm true or not?
Is the picture of humanity ruling over creation, reality, or is it maybe something that we look forward to, at some point in eternity?
Well it’s both.
It’s reality, and it’s what we look forward to.
Look with me, at those words from Hebrews chapter 2, printed on your outline.
You’ll recognise the quote from Psalm 8 there,
Slightly different language, since his Old Testament was in a different languag.
What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
7 You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
8 and put everything under their feet.”,
But then he goes on to explain it a little,
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. 9 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone
2:6 – 9
We don’t see, everything subject to humanity, but we do see Jesus, who was made, for a little while, lower than the angels.
And as the footnote on verse 4 of the Psalm tells us, literally the Psalm reads “a son of man”, which is how the author of Hebrews quotes it,
Now we know that Son of Man was Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself, deliberately picking up exactly this kind of Old Testament imagery and applying it to himself, to communicate something of who he is and why he came.
So it shouldn’t surprise us, that the author of Hebrews says that in Jesus, we see exactly what the Psalm promises.
This Son of Man, was made, lower than the angels, for a little while, that is, in his incarnation, in his suffering and death,
But in ascending to the right hand of God, he is verse 9, now crowned with glory and honour.
We don’t see all things under our feet, but we do see all things under the feet of Jesus.
How can we see those situations we mentioned at the beginning resolved, made a thing of the past?
How and when will all things be under our feet?
How and when will we rule creation as God intended?
Well Hebrews shows us that our place in creation, is in Christ.
We cannot achieve the rule and relationship pictured in Psalm 8 outside of him, without being united with him, without him tasting death for us, as Hebrews says.
Only through being united with Jesus in his death, that is, by accepting his death in our place, can we exercise this purpose in the world.
Jesus fulfils this Psalm;, its picture of a human ruling over creation is perfectly realised in him.
It’s a picture still to be realised for us, the rest of humanity, and we won’t see it until the new creation that Jesus will usher in.
But on that day we will rule God’s creation as he intended, and humanity will be universally recognised as the pinnacle of God’s creative work.
God is excellent!
Well, I’m sure you noticed, that having started with God, and then having spent the bulk of the Psalm, expressing his wonder at humanity, and humanity’s place in creation,
That study of humanity, what David sees, and reflects on, and learns, about humanity, actually points him back to God, to declare again, how great and glorious and majestic God is.
Those same words, LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
And yet, if were we singing this Psalm, as the original readers did, having heard what David teaches us, about humanity, we could sing those words again, with even greater understanding and appreciation than when we sang them the first time, couldn’t we?
To see ourselves, as God has made us,
To understand what it is to be human,
To know the place we hold in God’s creation,
And especially for us, who come after the life and ministry of Christ, in which we see this Psalm fulfilled, and us invited into its fulfilment,
It all shows us, all the more clearly the grace of God,
The majesty of God,
And it drives us, not only to wonder, but even more so, to worship.