Thursday, August 9, 2012

What is Man That You Should Be Mindful of Him?

Psalm 8

1 O LORD our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *

your majesty is praised above the heavens.

3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *

to quell the enemy and the avenger.

4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *

the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,

5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *

the son of man that you should seek him out?

6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *

you adorn him with glory and honor;

7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *

you put all things under his feet:

8 All sheep and oxen, *

even the wild beasts of the field,

9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *

and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

10 O LORD our Governor, *

how exalted is you Name in all the world!

I have a confession to make. I am a bit of a comic book geek. My strong suspicion is that there are more than a few people reading this that I can really geek-out with about comic books. Those people are surely familiar with the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They are responsible for the bulk of Marvel comic’s flagship heroes, Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four.  Along with heroes they also created many memorable villains. One of their most fascinating is Galactus, an extremely powerful and highly advanced entity who survives by devouring worlds. He sucks the life out of a planet and moves on. His herald, the Silver Surfer, leads him to Earth, but the Surpher is so struck by the beauty and nobility of human beings that he intervenes on our behalf.  Galactus dismisses his plea saying:

"Do they themselves not tread upon anthills, trampling on those who crawl gently within? They wish the humble ant no harm, but care not if it lives or dies!”

To Galactus, humanity is as insignificant as an ant-hill. In light of God’s incomparable might and the sheer vastness of the cosmos that he has created, why should God’s attitude to us be any different than that of Galactus? As the Psalmist asks “What is man that you should be mindful of him? The son of man that you should seek him out?”

The answer, I would submit, lies not in the nobility of human beings but in what the old English mystic Julianof Norwich called God’s, “most marvelous courtesy and Homely love!” This charming expression of Julian’s is meant to capture God’s openhearted hospitality and readiness to be disadvantaged as well as his willingness to become near to us and have fellowship with us. In other words, God’s humility and graciousness.

The Psalmist writes “You have made him but little lower than the angels; you adorn him with glory and honor.” The word that is translated here as angels, presents some questions. It is a Hebrew word, ‘Elohim,’ that is often used to refer to God himself. It just as easily could mean heavenly beings or angles. The New Testament authors, working from the Greek text, take it for granted that the word should here be understood to mean angels and so shall we.

2 Peter describes angels as “greater in might and power” than human beings. We may be lower on the celestial hierarchy than the angels, but according to the psalmist it is not to angels but to human beings that God has granted glory, honor, and dominion over his creation.  Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that God created human beings in his own image, which means that they were created to be regents of God’s royal authority. Not only that but they were created to know and enjoy God’s fellowship. What gracious courtesy God has shown in sharing his authority with people! How humble God must be to allow such familiarity between himself and his lowly creature!

Psalm 8 is a song of astonished wonder at God’s marvelous courteously and homely (or familiar) love towards the humble ant-hill of humanity.

God granted the psalmist a glimpse of both the divine glory and the divine humility, but he has reserved for us a more profound mystery, a mystery so awesome that even the angels—greater than us in power and might—long to see it. This mystery is the miracle of the incarnation where the Son of God condescended to become himself a human being.  Nothing testifies to God’s marvelous courtesy and homely love more than that! C.S. Lewis suggests that if we want to understand the depth of this condescension we might imagine what it would be like to become a slug or a crab!

Although humanity was created to reflect God’s glory and reign as his image-bearers, we have failed in that task and grievously marred God’s fair image. We have spoiled and exploited God’s good creation. Creation itself—far from being under our mastery—has too often exercised mastery over us through flood, famine, and other natural disasters. What human beings have wrecked through our sin, Jesus Christ, came to restore. Jesus Christ is truly God but also truly man. As the truly human one Jesus is the perfect image-bearer and creation’s true lord. Through Christ, human beings at last realize their true destiny as regents of God’s authority over creation.

As the author of Hebrews tells us, Jesus was made for a little while lower than the angels, but has been crowned with glory and honor greater than the angels or any other created thing (Hebrew 2:5-18). Jesus has ascended into heaven and has taken our human nature with him into glory. A human being sits at the right hand of God!

Jesus’ act of self renunciation, his emptying, has become the means by which we are filled with glory and honor. He has poured himself out for our sake. By becoming a servant he has made us kings. By becoming poor he has made us rich. Thomas Oden writes,

“His poverty consisted in the self-renunciation by which he assumed servant form—he was born in a stable, remained poor throughout his life, worked with his hands in common labor, was without a home of his own, and finally in his crucifixion was stripped of his robe and laid in the grave of another—all signs of poverty, of complete and willing lack of worldly resources. This poverty has made redeemed humanity rich by enabling persons to share in his glory by faith.” (Classic Christianity,261)

Again, who are we that God should show us such courtesy!? Have you ever considered the vastness of the universe? Among all the billions of stars in all of the whirling galaxies, our tiny planet revolves around one. Our brief life here is a mere blip in the span of cosmic history and yet God loves us with such mighty, burning, passion that he chose to share his own undying life with us.

If the Psalmist has reason to praise God in astonished wonder, we have more.

O LORD our Governor,
     how exalted is your Name in all the world!