[Published in Mennonite Weekly Review, 9/20/10]
In Psalm 8 we encounter one of those key passages scattered throughout the Bible that bring to the surface the basic assumptions of its teaching as a whole.
The key assumption named here is this: Fallenness and all, human beings are God’s agents in the world. Hence, everything about God must be understood in light of God’s commitment to humanity.
Humanity’s glory and honor
The structure of the psalm helps us notice its main message. The psalm begins and ends with an affirmation of the majesty of God’s name. But in between comes a detailed affirmation of the glory and honor of humanity. So, when we come to the second statement of God’s majesty in 8:9, we understand this majesty to be fully in tune with (not in tension with) humanity’s existence and our potential to exercise power in relation to the world around us.
We have seen in Exodus both God’s commitment to and God’s discouragement with the people God chose to bless all the families of the Earth. In the end, according to Ex. 34:7, God promises to keep “steadfast love for the thousandth generation.”
These contrasting messages — beauty and brokenness — continue throughout the Book of Psalms, as we will see. Psalm 8 gives us a crucial affirmation, though, as we begin our reflections on nine psalms. God is indeed great — and God has created human beings to join with God in caring for a creation that is constantly under threat by the powers of chaos and injustice.
This psalm insists that we recognize that God’s greatness includes, always, the truth that God has chosen to be “mindful” of and to “care for” humanity (8:4). What are human beings? Creatures who stand right next to God in sharing responsibility to enhance the well-being of the rest of God’s creation.
Suffering and majesty
Psalm 8 follows immediately after five psalms that express intense emotions of human suffering and struggle. The affirmation of humanity (all of humanity, not just the power elite) as sharing in God’s kingliness here links suffering with empowerment.
We see implied in these psalms a radical reshaping of the portrayal of God. God, too, suffers. We saw that in the exodus story. We can go farther back and see God’s grief and pain in the Genesis story of the flood. We see God’s suffering in its full intensity in the powerful laments of Jeremiah.
In the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews directly quotes from Psalm 8 in constructing its picture of Jesus (Heb. 2:6-8). Hebrews, and the broader New Testament, affirm Jesus as the true king. And his kingship is validated by his self-giving love, which involved profound suffering on behalf of others.
Jesus thus confirms what we see in Psalm 8. The “majesty of God” involves God’s commitment to humanity. God’s empowerment of humanity to serve as God’s agents of healing will involve self-giving, vulnerable love from both God and God’s people.
Humanity indeed has great value in God’s eyes. God empowers us to shape the world around us. We see God in the human work of enhancing the wellness of the rest of creation. The creative love of God finds expression in human creative love.
God is not the holy one who stands over against creation and fallen humanity. Rather, God is the holy one who enters into life, as it is, to bring healing — and who empowers human agents to be healers with God.