In this song the psalm-singer incidentally touches on one of the most serious problems of human life –and it’s a problem that includes all other problems. The problem is to know who we are. If human beings knew who they were –there wouldn’t be conflicts in our personalities. When you know who you are –you can look into your relationship of yourself with yourself, and you become what you should be, and you also find God. So, I repeat: the most serious problem that we face as human beings is the problem of self –“knowing who we really are”.
Who I am? What I am? Where did I come from? Where am I going? What is the meaning of these conflicting aspects of my personality? What is man? That’s the question! And to answer it we’re going to focus on some observations that David makes about what we are.
Notice what his first observation is in verses 3 and 4:
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
Look carefully what David says, “When I consider your heavens”. I imagine that all of us have in some moment of our lives, gone outside the door and gazed at the stars. Some of us have felt the thrill, the awe, and the impressiveness of the silent eloquence of the night. But David doesn’t stop there.
He says, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the starts which you have set in place, what is man? That emphasis makes a big difference.
You see. Not only is creation elegant, impressive and well-ordered, but man –the human person –also has a special place in this beautiful order.
But the psalm-singer has another point of observation:
you are mindful of him … you care for him.
What is man? We are small –frail –insignificant –dying –yet we attract the attention of God. The eternal God is mindful of us. Please don’t miss the connection between the two points of observation in verses 3 and 4. If human beings had been greater than the universes they would be equal to God; and I wouldn’t be surprise if God were mindful of them. But we’re not greater than the heavens. We are part of the dying world around us.
We breathe, we live our short lives, and then we die, and turn back into the dust of the earth.
If the human being is simply a complex –biological organism – that disintegrates and returns to their original chemical state –there’s nothing more to ask. But if we are more than that –if –we human beings –are smaller than the stars –less glorious than the moon and the starts –and yet God is mindful of us –and he numbers the hairs of my head, then you have to wonder like David; “what is man”? Compare to the vastness of the glorious heavens, man seems to be beneath consideration. But that’s not the case. Man is great. Why? Because we are closer to God and to the heavenly beings than the rest of creation. Look again what verse 5 says:
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honour.
Yes, we are lower than the heavenly beings because we don’t have immortality, and we don’t enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with God. We don’t live in that ideal, and perfect state. But here’s the thing. We still have an elevated status in God’s creation. So we come back to the question: What is man? He’s less than the heavenly beings, but crowned with glory and honour. Notice that these attributes belong strictly to God, but they are given to humankind. This verse tells us that we have a special affinity [resemblance]–not with nature, but with the Creator himself.
The problem is that we’ve emphasised so much the greatness and glory of mankind that we forget to connect our likeness to God with the humility of verse 4. So- it’s always important to emphasise the fact that is God who has crowned humankind with glory and honour. What we are is not the consequence of self-crowning it’s the work of the God who is mindful of and cares for us. Human beings are also great because they have been authorised to have dominion over all the creatures of the earth. Look what 6 to 8 say:
You have made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swims the paths of the seas.
The humanity of Psalm 8 has a royal personality. They have authority and responsibility to rule and care for the creation of God. That’s our relation to the natural environment. So- it’s only when we understand these observations that we have a true definition of what is man.
Now- it’s interesting to see that all these observations are connected with verse 9:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
The writer of this Psalm obviously doesn’t want us to forget that human glory, and human power must ultimately be express in divine praise.
To emphasise our likeness to God and use our power over creation –without praise of God is to profane what we are. Our self, that is, our personality is shaped, developed and it becomes more and more integrated as we praise the majesty of the name of the Lord. What this Psalm encourages us to do is to learn what one is in relation to God.
So- the question that we need to ask ourselves is this: on which level of life am I living? On the materialistic, where we are just self-conscious living organisms living up to the expectations of the world, or are we living on the level of what we really are? God’s people –crowned with glory and honour- acknowledging our true identity –and living in constant doxology? Are we living for physical satisfaction or spiritual growth? This psalm calls us to live in the full meaning of the reality of what we are in relation to God.
In Psalm 8 what makes possible the recognition that we are more than a biological organism that carries out specific social functions?
What happens when people refuse to acknowledge their authentic self?
Read Hebrews 2:5-18. What is the relevance of this text for understanding the human person?