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!



  1. Thanks for sharing this. I don't often think of Jesus in comparison to superheros, but I love the contrast with Galactus, and the reminder that it's God's courteous, "familiar" love that protects us from being trampled, or carelessly destroyed. Your post reminds me of Lamentations 3:22: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

  2. This is just lovely, Matt. Thank you for the reminder of our humble place in the universe and of God's humble love, despite our insignificance and smallness.
    - Allison Duncan

  3. You ignored the humanistic message of the Silver Surfer. It isn't God's humility (which if you read the Bible is nonexistent), but it is humanities... well, humanity that won the Surfer over. Far from being the evil sinners that the Bible claims we all are, the Surfer sees the potential for good in all human beings. He recognizes that we all struggle to be the heroes of our own stories. This is the exact opposite of the way Christianity sees humanity. According to the Bible, we are all evil sinners born with original sin. No one is without sin, not one and the penalty for sin is death. According to the Bible, we all deserve to be tortured for all eternity (which is a very long time I hear). It is only because God wants us to worship him that he is willing to spare us. That's not humility. It is the exact opposite!

    "Elohim" refers to the gods of the Canaanite pantheon of gods to which Yahweh was a member. Probably under the name Yam, the God of wrath and vengeance. This is just a hold over from a time before Judaism became monotheistic.

    You seem to be a pretty well educated person as far as Christianity is concerned. I have to think that you realize all this. The Christian story just doesn't fit with the facts. It doesn't make sense and is full of plot holes. Don't be afraid to express and explore your doubts.

    1. It sounds as if you are a comic book fan as well! The Silver Surfer's message is definitely more humanist than Christian. I won't deny that. The term Elohim is indeed probably a hold over from Canaanite religion. I won't deny that either. I'm not particularly interested in making this blog a forum for debate about the merits of the Christian faith. There are other sites, as I am sure you are aware, that would be happy to accommodate you if that is your desire. April tells me you are an old friend. Thanks for reading!

    2. I'm not really interested in a debate on this especially since it appears you agree with me. But the question I do have is, why did you claim the exact opposite in your blog post? You seem like a well-educated guy to me. You know the facts, but you presented them in a way that was misleading. Anyone reading this blog who is unfamiliar with the Silver Surfer and the Hebrew term "Elohim" would no doubt come away with a distorted view of both.

      April will no doubt tell you that I love to argue (and it's true, I do). But I am also interested in understanding the world around me as accurately as I can. So far, I have enjoyed reading your blog even if we don't agree. I think you are a reasonable person and I want to "hold your feet to the fire" as the expression goes. ;-)

  4. I don't think that I was deceptive about the details of the particular comic book. I said that," the Surpher is so struck by the beauty and nobility of human beings that he intervenes on our behalf." As far as I can recall that is the way the story goes. I use the story, more specifically Galactus' comment as an opening, as an introduction. My point is not to show how Stan Lee's story is about the humility of God. I don't say anything of the sort in my post. I use the figure of Galactus by way of contrast.

    As far as the term Elohim goes, I don't see how a complex analysis of the etymological history of the word would be relevant or helpful to the main point of my sermon. Anyone who is interested in such thinks can consult a Hebrew lexicon. The reason I briefly deal with the issue is that some translations gloss the verse, "You have made us a little lower than God." Indeed "Elohim" is among the many terms used to refer to God in the Old Testament. It is also sometimes translated "gods" and is often used in the OT to refer to the gods of the nations( similar to the canaanite use that you mention). The same term can be used to refer to heavenly beings such as Angels. The Greek translation of the OT, that the author of Hebrews uses, translates the term as "Angels." I'm not a Hebrew scholar, although I took a few semesters in school, and so I try to avoid pontificating at length about Hebrew. Most lay people tend to tune out when preachers do that anyway. I mentioned what is relevant to my point. The fact that the name has a common history with a term used in another semitic language is an interesting bit of trivia, but I hardly think it is some shocking revelation that I need to keep secret at the risk of shipwrecking my reader's faith.