Beginning in the Right Place | Psalm 8 (1/3)
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
Through a network of eight radio telescopes around the world, in a project involving over 200 scientists, and thanks to computer science student Katie Bouman who developed a crucial algorithm, astronomers recently captured the first image of a black hole – three million times the size of the Earth, and a mere 55 million light years away.
And yet even this, the psalmist declares, is formed by God’s finger tips – like the delicate, up-close work of an expert carver or sculptor.
David asks the age-old question about the nature of humanity – ‘what is mankind?’ – but he doesn’t begin with us. Nor does he give a theological or philosophical treatise, or offer a course in biology, sociology, or anthropology. He starts in the right place, and in the right way, in wonder and praise. So it is that the psalm begins, and ends, with God: ‘LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!’ And humanity is understood within the frame of God’s own glory. In a psalm which celebrates the royal dignity of men and women comes the reminder that we rule on behalf of God only insofar as we acknowledge God’s prior rule.
And with submission goes worship. For David, this includes children and infants, whose praise establishes a stronghold against God’s enemies – those who don’t and won’t submit to God. Somehow, the way God responds to foes and cynics is by putting praise on the lips of those who are apparently helpless. There is mystery here, to be sure, but it resonates with what the Bible says elsewhere: what seems to be weak overcomes the strong, what appears to be of little consequence overwhelms the mighty.
So, before David asks the question, ‘what is mankind?’, there is already an indication that the answer will challenge the dominant cultural narratives about humanity.
What we were made to be is still threatened by hostile powers – not just militarism, but racism and sexism, exploitation and addiction, fear and hate. Scripture speaks of an alternative power at work – in creation and redemption, in praise and worship – often operating through the seemingly weak and apparently insignificant, but who overcome evil in the name of the Lamb.
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