Prone to Wonder

Original Date: 
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Series: 

Psalm 8 Life Songs: Prone to Wonder

The Eagle Has Landed
The computer alarm was beeping. Outside the thick, triangular windows of their capsule, the men could see landmarks racing by. If the alarm meant what they thought it meant, they were at risk of missing their carefully planned landing target by miles.

But, then again, who knew? Nobody had ever done this before. Back at mission command, engineers scrambled to examine the data. The computer was fully functioning. The alarms were merely an indication that they needed to postpone certain tasks. The mission could proceed. At least, that was their best guess.

Back in the capsule, Edwin Aldrin was constantly relaying navigation data to the pilot. Then, a probe hanging from a footpad touched the surface. “Contact light!” he radioed. Three seconds later, the lunar module Eagle touched down on the surface of the moon.

Fellow astronaut Neal Armstrong finished his post-landing checklist, then said: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Elaborately rehearsed plans now called for the astronauts to take a five-hour nap. But who could sleep after landing on the moon? Instead, Armstrong and Aldrin began preparing for what their schedule had labeled as EVA—extra-vehicular activity. In other words, the first moonwalk.

As a planet full of people stared at the black and white images relayed from the moon to their television sets, something happened that they weren’t aware of. Aldrin withdrew a small bag he had hidden in his stowage bag. Inside was a small bottle of wine, a chalice, and some wafers prepared by his pastor back on earth. Before he donned his space suit, Buzz Aldrin celebrated the sacrament of communion.

A short time later, Armstrong climbed down the Eagle’s nine-rung ladder and uttered his famous words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin soon joined him, describing the breathtaking view from the moon as “magnificent desolation.”

After Eagle pushed off the moon and rendezvoused with Columbia, the Apollo 11 astronauts each relayed carefully selected messages back to the home planet. Michael Collins affirmed the “blood, sweat, and tears” of countless people who had made this triumph possible. Armstrong thanked those who “did construction, design, and the tests and put their hearts and all their abilities into those craft.”

Aldrin added, “This has been far more than three men on a mission to the Moon; more, still, than the efforts of a government and industry team; more, even, than the efforts of one nation. We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown.”

He went on: “Personally, in reflecting on the events of the past several days, a verse from Psalms comes to mind: ‘When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the Moon and the stars, which Thou has ordained; What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” (Story told by Kevin Adams, 150, pgs. 70-72)

Lost in Wonder
Psalm 8 poses one of the greatest questions of all time. It captures some of the conundrums that have kept philosophers up throughout the ages: Who is God? Who are humans? And what is the relationship between the two?

You can hear the wonder in the Psalmist’s voice, the astonishment. He begins with a consideration of God’s majesty, he takes a quick tour of the cosmos and allows himself to be awed at the magnificence of a God who could create it all, and then he wonders how this same God could be interested in something as fragile and fallible as human beings.

I mean, think of it from Buzz Aldrin’s perspective: standing on the surface of the moon, looking back at an earth that now appears as a little speck of blue on a gigantic black canvas, knowing that the human beings on that planet would be—from this distance—more than microscopic… wouldn’t you have to wonder how God could take an interest in something as insignificant as humanity?

And yet, the assertion of this Psalm is that He does. The argument of Psalm 8 is that God is majestic and glorious and magnificent—that He hangs the stars in place—and yet He has also gifted some of His glory to us—human beings made in His image. I’d say the big idea of Psalm 8 is this: One of the main marks of God’s majesty is found in us. God has bestowed incredible honor upon human beings. We are His supreme creation.

There are two main points to this Psalm. The first is that the majesty of God is great beyond words and He is worthy of our fervent allegiance and worship. The second is that God’s majesty is made manifest in the glory of God’s supreme creation: human beings made in His image.

Let’s consider each point:

You have set your glory
First, God is majestic. God is the sovereign ruler of creation, the glorious designer of the heavens, and His majesty knows no bounds.

The Psalm begins and ends with the same sentence. That clearly makes it important. Verse 1, and verse 9:

1 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The first LORD here is a translation of God’s name: Yahweh. This is how God identified himself to Moses: as the great I AM, the absolute God who simply IS without beginning or ending and who is utterly self-sufficient and free. Whenever you see the word LORD all in capital letters like that, it’s a translation of that divine name. It’s a name no Hebrew dared to speak aloud, so they always substituted the word “Lord” whenever they read it.

So this God is Yahweh, the I Am, the eternal and unchangeable God. The LORD. And, He is “Our” Lord. This is the God who makes covenant with His people. The God who gets personally involved in the affairs of Israel.

And the vision is that His name is majestic. In the Bible, the phrase “your name” is a way of talking about God’s true character and nature and reputation. It’s a way of saying that everything about Him—all that He is—is majestic and glorious. It’s a way of saying that God is powerful and sovereign and royal and deserving of honor.

And the sentence ends with “in all the earth.” This God is not a tribal god or a territorial deity. He’s not just the God for Abraham’s descendants or for the people who live in Judea. He is majestic and supreme over all of the earth and His splendor is above the heavens.

In fact, that’s the next thing the Psalmist talks about: the heavens. You get the feeling that David wrote this Psalm after a night of star-gazing. The end of verse 1 and verse 3:

You have set your glory
above the heavens…
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

The beauty of the cosmos says something about the glory of God. It is nature’s way of testifying to the incredible creativity, power, and enormity of God.

I realize that science and Christianity have an uneasy relationship. A basic tenet of science is that it wants to explain how things work apart from God. And so, the more the scientists learn and understand about our universe, the more they think they’ve done away with the need for faith in God.

But I don’t see it that way. The more I read about the discoveries of science—whether it is stuff they are learning about the stars or stuff they are learning about the human body—the less I see it as an explanation for how we don’t need God and the more I see it as a description of how great God is. Because, the more the scientists discover, the more it makes me doubt that all this complexity could just happen on its own.

So, for example, I went on my computer this week and searched for the phrase “mind-blowing astronomical discoveries”. And I got all kinds of hits—over 30,000—and the first couple of pages—at least—each referenced some new discovery scientists have made in the cosmos.

So, I just clicked on the first one, and here’s what I learned: a couple of years ago astronomers discovered the largest star they’ve ever seen. It’s named R136a1—not the most exciting of names—and it is 265 times the mass of our sun. To put that in perspective, that’s about 100 solar masses more than the next largest known star.

R136a1—it really needs a name, maybe we should call it Goliath—is about 165,000 light years from earth and found in the Large Magellanic Cloud. If it were to replace our sun it would shine some 10 million times more brightly—which would mean we would all need some high end sunglasses. And it would, of course, be much warmer--we’d be able to put the winter clothes away permanently.

To give you some perspective on this, watch this little video. The earth has a circumference of almost 13,000 kilometers. The sun goes almost 1.4 million km (which by my math is more than 100 times as big). R136a1 (our Goliath star) comes in at at least 20,000,000 km. That’s at least 14 times as big in circumference, but again, scientists are saying at least 265 times as much mass. In other words, this is a really, really big star.

And yet, go back to Psalm 8. It says that these stars are the work of God’s fingers. He uses his pinkie to hang R136a1 in place.

You see the point? God is majestic. He is glorious. He is huge.

Crowned with Glory
But now, the second point. We are majestic. God has gifted some of His glory to human beings. He has set us in a privileged position. Verses 3 & 4:

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

As David comes in from his star-gazing, here’s the question he can’t stop asking: How can such a majestic, glorious God be concerned with something as simple and small as human beings?

Let me tell you a story: on Christmas Eve Day, my mom came up to spend the holiday with us. Around about 3:00 I was ready to head over to church to get ready for services. So I grabbed the keys to my van, opened the garage door, put the van in reverse and—SMACK!—backed right into the front of mom’s car. I forgot she was there. So I got out of my van, did a quick check for damage (all I could see were two little holes on the back of my bumper from Mom’s license plate holder) went back in the house and asked mom for her keys, moved her car, and then drove my van over to church. I never told her (till now) what happened.

Or, again, the other day I got out of bed and went to make coffee just like I have every morning for the past 15 years. Only, for some reason, this time I put the coffee grounds in the water reservoir and poured my water into the filter basket. I don’t know why. I turned on the coffee maker and couldn’t figure out why I had water running everywhere, and it didn’t look like coffee.

And those are just the dumb things I’ve done recently I’m willing to tell you about. My point is: human beings don’t always seem all that special. That’s why David wonders: why is God concerned about them?

And yet, He is. David answers his own question in verse 5:

5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

This is mankind’s place in the order of creation: just a little lower than the heavenly beings. When this verse gets quoted in the book of Hebrews, it says “a little lower than angels.” (Heb. 2:7) The emphasis seems to be on the similarity of humanity to the divine nature. This is a reflection of Genesis 1:26 where God says: “Let us make man in our image.”

The idea here is that out of all of nature nothing approximates God as much as humanity. There’s still a huge difference between us and God, of course, but only humans are made in His image.

And so, God crowns humanity with “glory and honor.” Some of His majesty, some of His glory, some of His right to reign over the universe He has made, He has transferred to men and women. That’s what I mean when I say we are majestic. In a sense, we are all princes and princesses.

In Genesis 1, right after creating man, God gives what theologians call the cultural mandate. Humanity is instructed to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Man’s job is to rule on God’s behalf over creation. (Gen. 1:26-28) David talks about that in verses 6-8:

6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

One commentator writes:

If one were to imagine a scale of 1 to 10 with living creatures such as beasts as 1 and God as 10, then so high is the writer’s estimation of humanity, he should have to put him at 8 or 9. It is God, not animals, who is man’s closest relative. (Elmer Martens, quoted by Waltke, pg. 269)

This is an excellent summary of the Bible’s understanding of the relationship between God and man. Even though God is the creator of an enormous universe—a cosmos that we barely have the numbers to describe—men and women are still dear to Him. We hold a privileged position, created in His image, and He is mindful of us. To borrow a phrase from Louie Giglio—one I’ve used before—“we are cosmically insignificant, but we are divinely desired.”

So this is the vision of Psalm 8: God is majestic and glorious beyond words and completely deserving of our worship and adoration. And one of the main marks of God’s majesty is found in us. God is majestic. We are majestic. God has gifted some of His glory to His supreme creation—the human being.

Sanctity of Life
There are a number of implications to this truth. We could talk about the depths of God’s love for us. We could use it as a reminder of the great lengths Jesus went to in order to procure our salvation. We could talk about our responsibility to represent Christ both in the way we deal with the environment and the way we influence culture.

But the one implication I want to focus on today is this: You cannot worship and glorify the majesty of God while treating His supreme creation with contempt.

Do you see this? Do you see that if your theology of humanity is that men and women are made in the image of God—if we are just a little lower than the heavenly beings—then that has enormous implications for how you treat people? It doesn’t matter who you are dealing with—whether they are a different skin color, a different age bracket, a different social class, a different native language, a different ability or dis-ability, a different gender—every human life is precious and significant and should be treated with honor and respect.

John Piper offers this list:
• You cannot starve the aged human and glorify the majesty of God.
• You cannot dismember the unborn human and glorify the majesty of God.
• You cannot gas the Jewish human and glorify the majesty of God.
• You cannot lynch the black human and glorify the majesty of God.
• You cannot treat human pregnancy like a disease and glorify the majesty of God.
• You cannot treat the mixing of human races like a pestilence and glorify the majesty of God. (What is man? Jan. 16, 1994)

We could add:
• You cannot objectify men and women as sexual objects on the internet and glorify the majesty of God.
• You cannot bully and mock a person with a disability and glorify the majesty of God.
• You cannot refer to a race of people by some pejorative term—such as the “N” word—and glorify the majesty of God.

And more…You simply cannot treat God’s supreme creation with contempt and still claim to be a worshipper of the majesty of God.

The irony here is that for a long time, Christians were complicit in the institution of slavery. I read this week that one of the most notorious slave plantations was one called Codrington on the Caribbean island of Barbados. Over 250 field slaves were kept working in brutal conditions to grow sugar cane. Branded on their chests, to ensure swift return if they ever ran away, a slave’s life expectancy was not long. Causes of death ranged from “a flux”, “convulsed,” to “shot by accident.” The absentee owner of this plantation was the Church of England. For a long time, southern slaveholders tried to use the existence of slavery in the Bible to justify their “peculiar institution.” (Adams, p. 77)

But at the same time, it must be remember that it was Christians—and the Christian view of the unique dignity of humanity guided by texts such as Psalm 8—that led to the abolition movement and the eventual ending of slavery. Once you understand the majesty of man, it becomes very difficult to justify putting him in chains.

Which leads to a modern day issue that some have equated with the slavery issue of 150 years ago: abortion.

I do not make it a practice to preach on political issues. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for or which party to support. I think there are plenty of venues for you to get political information that will help you make up your mind—you don’t need to get that info at church. But when it comes to abortion, I need you to see that it is more than a political issue—it is a moral issue.

January is Sanctity of Life month. Jan. 22, 1973 the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Roe v. Wade that essentially said that humans growing in the womb of their mothers are not actually persons and thus can be deprived of the right to life. And yet, no one who reads Psalm 8 and believes it is the word of God can argue that a baby in the womb is not precious to God.

In fact, I skipped over verse 2 earlier, but let me take you back to it now:

2 From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

The precise meaning of this verse isn’t entirely clear, the Hebrew is a bit vague. But most scholars agree that it is getting at the idea that God is glorified by the praise of even the most humble and weak of humans. That, in a sense, God uses the child-like faith of His people to silence His enemies. So, just as God is glorified by giant stars, so is He honored and praised by tiny infants.

What I want you to note, though, is that the Psalm specifically talks about babies. In fact, the English doesn’t capture it, but the Hebrew word translated as “children” here may actually refer to an unborn child still in the womb (so Waltke, p. 261, cf. Job 3:16).

So ask: Why is it that what comes out of the mouth of these little humans has such strength that it can overcome the enemies of God? I think the answer is, at least in part, given by verse 5—these little ones are made by God. Little infants and sucking babes are each made by God in the womb.

Moreover they are made in the womb, like no other being, a little lower than the heavenly beings, and they are made in the womb by God and crowned with glory and majesty. In other words, their supreme place in creation under God is so profound even at the stage of being a fetus that when they open their mouth to cry or to coo or to babble as a human being they are bearing witness to their unspeakable dignity in creation and therefore to the majesty of God's name in all the earth.

God does not wait until a tiny babe is rational or independent to crown him or her with glory—the child doesn’t have to be an astronomer or even somebody who pours coffee grounds into a water reservoir. When the infant opens his or her mouth, God is praised, strength is established by the sheer truth that a human creation in the image of the majestic God is here.

Let all the adversaries of God take note and tremble. If they treat God's supreme creation with contempt, they will lose. They will be silenced.

So I plead with you to respect human life in all its forms: the unborn, the aged, the weak, the different, the marginalized, the foreign, and those close to home.

As I close, let me invite you to watch this video:

http://www3.focusonthefamily.com/popups/media_player.aspx?MediaId={5B903BBB-4FA1-4255-BD4E-931392D8722B}

1 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.
2 From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalm 8