READ : Psalm 8:1-9
Think of something truly wonderful: the night sky spangled with countless stars, a newborn’s first cry, a flight of migrating birds. Do these wonders that surround us every day cause you to praise God the Creator? If they don’t, maybe you need to listen to this song of creation.
All too few people find day-to-day life wonderful in the literal sense – “full of wonder.” Most of us plod along with our heads down and our senses dulled, thinking only about getting through the day and what might be on television tonight. But some rare souls manage to keep their sense of wonder, and therefore themselves, fully alive. To them, everything in the world, all of life in its marvelous complexity and beauty, seems miraculous. A sunset, wildflowers by the roadside, the smell of wood-smoke, a child’s smile, a line of music, the light in their lover’s eyes – these people never lose the capacity for noticing and treasuring such things. They are the ones who don’t grow out of the “wonder years,” which for too many of us end sometime back in childhood. These are the people who never stop growing, learning new things, and being amazed at every turn by the incredible universe we inhabit. There is no good reason why all the years of all our lives shouldn’t be “wonder years.”
True wonder is a combination of awareness, admiration and amazement. It is the sense of mysterious awe we feel in the presence of surpassing wisdom, power or beauty. Or, in the case of God’s works of creation, all three.
THE WONDER OF GOD
At the heart of the song that is the eighth Psalm is an experience of wonder. These chapters in the Bible we call the Psalms were songs written for the people of God. Altogether, there are 150 of them, put together in the Old Testament book of Psalms. These songs express every possible emotion and experience felt by people who live their lives before the face of God. Reading them can help us feel some of the same things. But the Psalms weren’t meant only to be read. They were meant to be sung; they really are songs for the people of God. They are still sung today, in many different forms and styles.
The 8th Psalm goes like this:
Yahweh, our Lord,
how majestic is your name throughout the world . . .
I look up at your heavens, shaped by your fingers,
at the moon and the stars you set firm –
what are human beings that you spare a thought for them,
or the child of Adam that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god,
you have crowned him with glory and beauty,
made him lord of the works of your hands,
put all things under his feet,
sheep and cattle, all of them,
and even the wild beasts,
birds in the sky, fish in the sea,
when he makes his way across the ocean.
Yahweh our Lord,
how majestic is your name throughout the world!
Psalm 8, njb
The psalmist expresses his sense of wonder in verse 3: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place….” I wonder if you have ever had a similar experience to that, when the sight of a star-filled night sky just overwhelmed you? I remember such a night in northern Ontario, Canada. After paddling and portaging our canoes for several days we made camp on the shores of a beautiful lake. As the daylight faded we sat around the fire talking into the night. At last the embers died down, and one by one we moved out of the circle of light. Before turning in, I walked down to the water’s edge and looked up. The night heavens were filled with more stars than I thought it was possible to see, stretching from horizon to horizon, while across the lake the dancing Northern Lights shimmered against that heavenly backdrop.
That must be something like what David saw one night three thousand years ago, a sight which led him to write this song to the Creator God. As he gazed upwards his mind was overwhelmed with thoughts of God’s greatness. All that he saw in that night sky, sang David, is “the work of your fingers.” The Lord is so infinite in wisdom and strength, in greatness and might, that he is able to make all of this magnificent universe, and do it with ease. He didn’t even have to use his hands, David seems to suggest, only his fingers – a poetic way of expressing the thought that creating all the vast galaxies in space was a task which didn’t even begin to tax God’s strength.
David’s wonder at creation prompts him to worship the Creator. He lifts God’s name in praise:“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (v. 1). The word majestic comes from a Latin word that means “great” or “large”; majesty is beauty on a large scale. A butterfly is beautiful but not big; a bulldozer is big but not beautiful (except perhaps to its owner)! The Rocky Mountains are both big and beautiful, which is why we sing about “purple mountains’ majesty.” The eighth Psalm says that God is the one who is supremely majestic; he is at once greater and more beautiful than everything else there is.
God has given us a glimpse of himself through the magnificent world he made. But we really learn what he is like through his self-revelation in his written word, the Bible. Creation is awe-inspiring, but it remains only a dazzling spectacle until we learn about the God who is behind it. Then creation serves to point us beyond itself to the greatness of its Creator. When we know God personally, then the experience of the beauty and majesty of the world invites us to lift our thoughts, our hearts and our voices to him in wonder, love and praise.
THE WONDER OF PEOPLE
After praising the wonder of God’s greatness in creation, David naturally starts to think about himself. Not just himself, but human beings generally (v. 4). Whenever we look up into the heavens, we tend to feel very, very small and insignificant. How could we possibly think that a human life would have any importance or meaning when measured against the limitless vastness of the universe? We seem to be nothing more than what the atheists keep saying we are: an invisible dot on a microscopic speck of dust hurtling through the frozen silence of infinite space. “When I look up at your heavens . . . what are human beings?“ asks David. The only possible answer would seem to be, “Nothing much.” God, if there is a God, could hardly be expected to pay individual attention to any of 6 billion humans on one tiny planet.
But that is not the answer this song gives. God does notice us! He not only notices us, he honors us. He cares for us (v. 4). He has crowned us, says the psalmist, with glory and honor (v. 5). Human beings are not insignificant nothings. The God who created the heavens and the earth also created us as the crowning piece of his wonderful work. It’s true that since then we have spoiled God’s good work by our sin, but we still have his likeness in our nature, and that makes each and every person on earth infinitely valuable.
David’s song describes our place in God’s scheme of things (vv. 5-6). Humans fit in the middle, he says. We are lower than God and the angels by nature, yet higher than the other creatures on earth. We are half-way up the ladder of God’s hierarchy, inferior to deity yet superior to created matter and the animal kingdom.
Here’s a second reason why each human person has dignity, significance and worth. God has given us an important task within the created order (vv. 6-8). Our responsibility is to rule, to supervise things in the world, to exercise authority in God’s place, to manage the rest of the creation. This is no small job. If our place in the divine order gives significance and value to our lives as humans, our God-assigned role gives dignity to all our work, whatever it is. And such work it is! We might even conclude from this eighth Psalm that God intends the whole universe some day to be ruled by humanity (“You put everything under [their] feet,” says verse 6). No wonder David sang a song of wonder about the creation. He was impressed not just with the beauty and grandeur of the universe, but with our greatness, with the wonder of human beings – the most important creatures in the world!
Let me add a couple of practical points by way of conclusion. First, the biblical view of personal importance and identity is an answer to the devaluation of human life in the contemporary world. For many today, people are meaningless zeroes. The life of a person is worth no more than the life of a dog, an insect, or any other organism. Human uniqueness, and therefore human life, is under serious attack, especially at the margins – its beginning (think of abortion) and its end (euthanasia). Some radicals even argue that people are the problem and the best thing is to get rid of everybody. Or, at least, everybody but them! The best way to protect the dignity and value of every person’s life, including those least able to protect themselves – the unborn, the handicapped, the dying – is by understanding that a divine Creator has made his human creatures with a unique nature and status. This biblical conviction is the only way to refute much of the nonsense being talked about and evil being done today.
Second, the biblical view of human rule over creation speaks to our present environmental crisis. Christianity has been taken to task by those who say its doctrine of the superiority of humans over the creation has resulted in the destruction of the earth through the technologies of consumption. In fairness, we must acknowledge the justice of some of this criticism. Too often the biblical “dominion” has meant exploitation of creation in practice – the reckless poisoning of air and water, the ruthless extraction of natural resources, the extermination of wildlife, the despoiling of the beauty of the earth – and all in the name of profit. Biblical Christians must be involved in reversing all this, not because we are radical environmentalists or New Age pantheists, but because we see the wonder of creation, we worship the Creator, and we recognize our duty to rule responsibly as God’s representatives.
Do you sense the wonder of the world and your place in it? Have you paused to worship today, to give thanks to the great Creator God? He not only made us, he loved us so much that he sent his Son Jesus Christ to save us even after we had marred his creation by turning against him. Through faith in Christ you can come to know the Creator as your Savior. You can know him not just as a vague idea or force, but as a loving, personal Father. You can learn to sing, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”