What theological clues does Psalm 8 provide about the creator, the creation, the dignity of humans, the value of science and the person of Jesus?
Gustavo Sobarzo explains more in this blogpost, which has been adapted from a talk he gave to young scholars at the Logos and Cosmos Initiative (LCI). A veterinary doctor by training, Gustavo has spent more than 15 years as a professor of veterinary microbiology while also serving with the IFES national movement in Chile, first as a staff worker and later as General Secretary. He now serves as the Tier One Training Coordinator for the LCI in Latin America. He lives in Santiago, Chile.
I have always loved Psalm 8. It is one of the psalms that I learned by heart from a very young age. It helps me express the feelings of awe and wonder I experience when I think about God and his relationship with us.
We know that this psalm was written by David but we don’t know much about the circumstances. However, it certainly tells of a king who recognises God’s lordship over his own authority. It gives us some interesting theological clues about the creator, creation and how we can understand them both.
Awe and wonder at God and his creation
What strikes you most about God’s creation? Have you ever seen something that simply blew your mind and made you marvel at the immensity of God?
It has happened to me many times. But there are three memories that stand out:
Once I was flying from the north of Chile to the capital, Santiago. It was night, and out of the window I could see the mountain range, the altiplano or Andean plateau, illuminated by the lightning of a thunderstorm. I was overwhelmed by my smallness and the beauty of the spectacle.
The second time was during the birth of my three daughters. As I held them in my arms, I was moved by the beauty of each little creature coming into the world, knowing that she was first born in the very heart of God.
The third was when I studied to become a veterinarian and microbiologist. My studies involved unravelling God’s truth written in life itself. I praised God as I learned about genes, protein synthesis, the functions of bacteria and animal cells, and so on. And I continue to be amazed by my discipline as I teach microbiology and work in the lab.
What are your moments of awe and wonder? When have you seen or understood something that prompted you to praise the Lord for what he has done?
David gives us voice here, and sings in verse 9, “how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
The glory of the Lord is spread throughout the earth, throughout the universe, in all that we see and all that we do not see.
Believers and atheists alike are perplexed as they observe creation. What a blessing it is for those of us who have the gift of faith to be able to give an explanation, or rather a face, to the one who allows us to witness so much wonder.
Science as a way of knowing God
For David, in verse 3, what triggers his praise is the observation of the heavens, the moon and the stars. It reminds us how important it is to observe creation! It tells us about God. The author clearly distinguishes the creation from the creator and is not tempted to praise the creation itself.
One of the central ideas that Catalysts (participants) learn about in their LCI training is that to do science is to know and to better understand the world created by God. God likes us to be involved in scientific research and discoveries. Scientific research is not contradictory to believing in God.
Over the last century or so, an artificial struggle has been proposed between science and faith, as if the two were incompatible. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Psalm 8 – A psalm of David
1Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against 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 mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
There are many of us scientists who are Christians, and for us, being involved in science is a way to honour our creator. The scientist and the theologian have much in common. While the theologian performs an exegesis of the scriptures, to know God and his work better, many Christian scientists performs an exegesis of creation, for the same purpose.
The dignity of humans
This psalm addresses a central, very relevant question: What are human beings? In verse 4, David asks the Lord: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
When we look at the universe, we are nothing but specks of dust. Have you ever felt this way when you were a child? David’s question is a fair one. And I love the way he answers himself through his dialogue with the Lord.
Even if human beings are so insignificant in appearance, there is something special about us as God’s creation. God made humans a little lower than an angel. Other versions of the bible say that the Lord has made humans a little lower than a god.
People are the reflection (image) of God on earth. What does that mean? A physical image? No. It refers to how God has invested men and women with authority over all the rest of creation. To be stewards.
Unfortunately, the mandate to “rule over” creation has often been misunderstood. Sin has made us into broken images of God. Instead of stewardship and care we have destroyed creation. In addition, we have dehumanised our fellow humans in every way, forgetting that we are all images of God.
The world pressures us to depersonalise ourselves. To transform us into numbers, into consumers, into possessable objects. Children in their mothers’ wombs are reduced to mere cells. The elderly are thought of as burdens. The imprisoned are deprived of all hope.
That is why it is a tragedy that in our Latin American countries, children are turning into criminals, into beings trained to kill and to get whatever they want at any cost. It is a tragedy because they are also the image of God. They are also the ones for whom the Lord paid with blood on the cross. In allowing this, our sin – as a community is very great.
A prophetic psalm
Psalm 8 also has a prophetic dimension. In verse 2, David says “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”
This speaks a great truth. Children, the very ones that today our society is displacing and forgetting, were of no value in biblical times. What a child said would be of little or no importance, yet it is from the children that deep praise arises.
And then the psalm speaks about the Lord’s enemies. This psalm was fulfilled when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. Matthew 21:15-16 describes how the chief priests and teachers of the law were indignant when they saw children shouting praises to Jesus in the temple courts. In response, Jesus quoted verse 2, saying: “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?’”
Just as the psalm foretold, it was the children who put the educated to shame.
Later, the author of Hebrews refers to verses 6-8 of this psalm as well, to highlight the sovereignty and the humanity of Jesus:
In the second chapter of the book of Hebrews, the author also quotes Psalm 8, saying: “…we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
The author of Hebrews uses the passage to affirm Jesus as the quintessential human being. Jesus, then, is the prophetic fulfilment of Psalm 8.
Questions and projects
- Are you in awe of God’s power in creation or in your own life? Do you recognise him as Lord of all?
- Do you perceive yourself as “a little lower than an angel”? Are you aware of how valuable you are to God, or do you find it hard to believe this truth?
- Do you perceive those around you as images of God? Are you able to see the dignity and value of each person? What would help you do it better?
Many of the realities discussed above are reflected in the projects that young scholars in the LCI are leading in their university in partnership with their IFES national movements. These Catalysts are bringing together theology and the sciences in projects which aim to aid our understanding of God’s creation, while also promoting the dignity of every human being and helping creation – including our societies – to flourish. Find out more about last year’s LCI projects here and view our projects photo gallery here. Look out for more details coming soon about new projects starting in June.