Psalm 8 / What does it mean to be human?

May 7, 2020

Ray Galea

What kind of an animal is a human? Mark Twain once said that “Man is the only animal that blushes, man is the only animal that needs to blush”. I remember hearing of 3 teenagers who set alight a homeless man in the city and watched him burn to death. What kind of animal is man? 

This Psalm wants to answer the question ‘what is a human?’

But it will do so in terms of God and it will do so as a means of praising God.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. ~Psalm 8:1 (NIV)

The Psalm opens and closes in a song of praise. It declares not of the magnificence of creation but the magnificence of the God of creation. A Psalm that comes from the lips of King David. What set us apart from the rest of creation is that we chose to praise or not praise our God. David celebrates how God’s name, that is his character, is seen at work in the universe. Both the heavens and the earth wreak of the majesty of God. Its not just kings or galaxies that praise God, praise falls off the lips of the smallest infant.

Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. ~Psalm 8:2 (NIV)

As Spurgeon said, ‘Children have a way of reminding us of the God we forget’. 

Jesus quotes this verse in Matthew 21 and applies it to himself. The religious leaders see Jesus perform miracles in the temple, hear the children praise Jesus and they are angry. They say to Jesus “Do you hear what these children are saying” In other words shut them up, they are blaspheming. The praise of the insignificant kid – shut the mouths of the arrogant.

When my daughter was 5 years old, she was talking about how she loved Jesus who died on the cross for her. I said to her “Maddy, you know more than 90% of all the professors in all the Universities in all the world.” She says, “Really Daddy?! Wow. What is a professor?” She may not know what a professor is but she praises the God who created the world and sent his Son to die for her.

But the wonder of creation became the backdrop for David to wonder at Gods favour on us.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? ~Psalm 8:3-4 (NIV)

With the universe being so big and we being so small, why do we matter so much to God? We are not the biggest species of creation, we don’t live the longest, we are certainly not the fastest but we are the ones God has bestowed his care on. Jesus picks up the idea of our precious place

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. ~Matthew 6:26 (NIV)

Are you not as valuable than they? No
Are you not more valuable than they? No
Are you not much more valuable than they? YES

Notice the royal language? You don’t have to live in Buckingham palace to be royalty.

You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. ~Psalm 8:5 (NIV)

Just a little lower than the angels, a little lower for a little while. We not told that we will judge the angels. We not told that they are servants sent to serve us. We humans alone bear the title ‘Made in the Image of God’

Friends, the only thing allowed to represent God on this earth is you. Both male and female are involved in ruling this creation as image bearers. We were made as the pinnacle of creation, to rule and care for this world under God. When an ancient ruler conquered a land, they would place an image of the king to indicate who now rules the land

You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: ~Psalm 8:6 (NIV)

Psalm 8 is a commentary on Genesis 1:26-27, we were not made side by side with the rest of creation, we were made to rule the world under God. Not only are we uniquely cared for by God, we are given that amazing privilege of ruling over it. With power comes responsibility and we will give an account for how we live our lives.

A pure evolutionary world view stole our uniqueness, a mindset that puts our existence solely as the result of time and chance. Where one species is ranked of equal value to another, so that more tears are shed over 5 beached whales than 80,000 human abortions which happen each year. Being an image bearer is a status that is given not earnt by our performance or ability.

Peter Singer, an ethics philosopher in Princeton said “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons… therefore, the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.” How disrespectful to God and destructive to humans.

You will deny God his praise if you treat humans as no different to animals. You will deny God his praise if you view humans like they are gods. Only when humans are viewed as part of creation and ruling over it under God will you say “O, Lord our Lord how majestic is your name.” Of all creatures, He has given to us schmucks the right to rule.

You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. ~Psalm 8:6-8 (NIV)

It is quite comprehensive. The more we walk on this planet the more we seem to rule. We ride horses they don’t ride us. We discovered penicillin and the fever goes. We invent refrigeration and enjoy fruit all year round. There seems to be nothing we can’t do. But Hebrews 2:8 tells us that this seems overstated.

At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. (NIV)

We know that everything is not subject to us. Psalm 8 carries a partial truth, not the whole truth.

As Francis Schaeffer rightly put it, we are a glorious ruin—part glory and part ruin.

Our control of the world is not so complete after all. Earthquakes and floods wreak havoc, for every wave we ride, we get dumped by another. Sometimes we catch the fish and sometimes a white pointer takes a bite out of us. Not the least we cant keep ourselves alive. Right now we are shut in 4 walls with lives lost and an economy that is nose diving.

I remember one holiday where it all went wrong. Kiama-Holidays, I forgot the keys to my in laws who live in Kiama and they were away. I called my Father in law and he said if you gently slide the kitchen window you will get through. I slide the window and it collapsed into the kitchen, glass was everywhere and I didn’t realise that the soil of the plant fell into the drain.

The drain was blocked and we spent the rest of the next day. Unblocking it. While the drain was blocked it flooded the dishwasher, vomiting suds. While unblocking the drain the TV co-incidentally breaks down. That next afternoon we discovered that the hose to the washing machine down stairs was split and flooded the down stairs. At present we do not see everything subject to him. 

I decided to reclaim the holiday and show my son how to fly a kite. A good windy day is ideal on the Kiama Beach for flying a kite and I felt I could master the winds. Ten bronzed Aussie surfers with arms folded leaning on the surf club wall having a good laugh at this father trying to impress an embarrassed son.

My son finally said “can we go home.” I was feeling sorry for myself but when I watched the news that night, I heard of a tragic family from Pakistan who were swept into the water near the blow hole. My friend had to go with the Father and help identify his drowned daughters.

At present we do not see everything subject to him. Even if we have managed to tame animals, we cant tame something as small as the tongue:

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. ~James 3:7-9 (NIV)

One moment we sing, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name”; the next we tell our loved ones to shut up! Get out, get lost or I hate you! Rule the world? We can’t even rule the words that leave our mouths and destroy our relationships.

We can’t even keep ourselves alive. Sin and death mock us. They are now ruling. Death is the final declaration that we do not ultimately rule. The writer of Hebrews sees the hope of Psalm 8 fulfilled specifically in Jesus: He is the true image of God.

At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. ~Hebrews 2:8-9 (NIV)

Everything hoped for in humans is realized in Jesus. His rule was evident throughout his earthly life.

  • When caught in a storm -he said shut up
  • When confronted by demons -he said get out
  • When faced with a disabled man he said get up
  • When he met men who loved God he said follow me.

He could look people in the eye and say, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:45). Jesus even has authority over death: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17). Jesus came to earth for us to reclaim our true humanity.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. ~Hebrews 2:14-15 (NIV)

Before Christ shares death with us, he tastes death for us. At its core, Christ’s death on the cross is an act of liberation, freeing us humans to live life without the fear of death.

My daughter Amy once asked my wife, “Mum, can you say ‘no’ to dying?” It’s a good question. The answer, as we all know, is, “No”. That is why we are described in Hebrews as being enslaved to the fear of death. We are such a long way from our high calling to be crowned with glory and honour. The most profound paradoxes of the human condition. 

God placed eternity in our hearts, and yet we walk in the valley of the shadow of death. Our fear of death has many faces, from humour to despair. It’s captured in one comedian who said:

“I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” (Eric Lax, Conversations with Woody Allen, Knopf, New York, 2009, p. 84.)

Albert Camus wrote that “life is a sustained protest against death”

It’s as if our whole life is compressed into the last 5 seconds before we drive the car into a brick wall at 100 km per hour, with his foot pressed hard on the brake…trying to stop the inevitable. As a result, many spend their lives fearing death or some refuse to go to funerals. Some develop health obsessions, trying to milk another five years out of life, while others try to cram ten lifetimes into one because one is all they have. 

Many are hopeful that they will live on in their children or in their dreams. These are all profoundly unsatisfying solutions. In Christ, death has been defeated in history. At the end of history, death, the last enemy, will be completely destroyed.

So, we who have been set free are no longer shamed by death and slavery to sin, we are liberated to praise God for our renewed humanity.

Not long after I joined the church staff team, Les Vitnell, the senor minister developed cancer. I went to visit him just before he died. As I stood at his bedside, I asked him this question: “Les, what is it like to know that within 24 hours you are going to be in the presence of God?” With a smile he said, “Ray, I have to tell you, I’m a little excited!” I was touch jealous, he knew his Saviour, who set him free from the fear of death.

Whatever reasons King David had for thanking God, we who live after the resurrection of Jesus Christ have so many more reasons. So, let us join David and declare:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! ~Psalm 8:9 (NIV)