“A Little Less Than God”
June 12, 2022
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! ***
This psalm, besides being one of my favorites, is assigned for this day called “Trinity Sunday.” On this day, the church celebrates the understanding of God as creator, redeemer and spirit, one in three and three in one. I know, it is beyond explanation.
Psalm 8 proclaims God the creator. It is a song of praise for God’s love and care for humans. God has created the cosmos to reflect God’s glory, from the sky to the earth to the sea, and God has bestowed God’s image, giving human beings responsibility and dignity. Like many songs, the psalm begins and ends with the same phrase: “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
I recall my 7th grade Science teacher expanding the minds of all his pubescent students. He spoke of realities in the universe, of matter being neither created nor destroyed. He spoke of the galaxy in which we rode around on this planet called earth. And then, to completely blow the minds of his preteen students he said this universe we inhabit was just one of billions, all moving away from one another.
Using visuals to speak about galaxies and light years, he asked us to imagine the sun as the size of a grapefruit. The earth was a grain of sand 35 feet away.
The sun, he continued, is our closest star. One this scale, the next grapefruit-size star would be 1,600 miles away, about the distance between Minneapolis and Key West. To make a model of just our galaxy, we would need 10 billion grapefruit, each 1,600 miles apart.
All these years later, the aim of this teacher continues to make me think. Psalm 8 makes me think. These days I live in a place where light pollution is minimal so that I can see our galaxy, the Milky Way, on a clear night. Remembering 7th grade science and Psalm 8, I am reminded we humans are an exceedingly small part of the creation. How then could it be that the Creator of all this pays any attention to us?
The writer of this psalm had been looking at the night sky. He addressed his thoughts to God:
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your finger, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them.” (vv. 3–4).
The size discrepancy between universe and humanity is enormous, he thought. How then could it be that the Creator even see us? He continues:
“Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.” (vv. 5–6)
Good news! This Creator does care, and in fact has assigned us a position just a little under God! We are called to be royalty, charged with managing the affairs of our neighborhood in the cosmos.
This Psalm is chiefly interested in speaking to the Creator. The psalm says something about astronomy, but it is more interested in the astronomer. It can help all of us, scientists, engineers, programmers, teachers, farmers, preachers — to find the place assigned to us in the midst of the galaxies, gasses of stars and creatures of this earth.
We humans are assigned to be “little less than God” or, as another version of Scripture says, “a little lower than the angels.” Of all the birds, animals, fish and plants on this earth, God invited us to share the management task. Ponder the dignity and the responsibility that puts in our path!
But these words also have warning. We are intended to be less than God, lower than the angels. What does that mean to you? Should we expect to not answer all questions, solve all mysteries, or control all aspects of our lives and the lives of others on our planet? There are limits to our capabilities. We ought not get ourselves confused with God, or even with angels. The Bible calls such confusion the sin of pride.
We are also meant to be royalty, responsible for ruling over our planet. With that comes the assignment to care for seas, lakes, rivers, forest, whales and whooping cranes, as well as the orphans, the widows and the poor. Such care is expected of royalty.
One of my favorite seminary professors, the late Dr. Jim Limburg, elucidated much of my understanding of this psalm. I recall he spoke of a lecture by a colleague on the nature of life, based on Psalm 8. It was titled: “Midway between the Apes and the Angels.” The title may offend, but it reminds us who we are — not gods, not angels, but more than apes, or even eagles. We are royalty, assigned to care for the earth, managing it for the good of all people, while inviting our fellow earthlings to join in the song of praise: “O Lord, our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
Image: Trinity Collection 15 by Philippe Saint-Laudy