How great Thou art

Psalm 8

On July 20, 1969, humans took their first steps on the moon.  The astronauts of Apollo 11 also left something, messages from more than 70 states.  The Vatican contributed Psalm 8.  “It clearly seems an appropriate choice for such a cosmic journey for it is an eloquent proclamation of the universal sovereignty of God” (J. Clinton McCann).

Psalm 8 is the only hymn in the entire OT composed completely as an address to God.  In passionate and vivid language it praises God for the work of creation: earth, heavens, moon, stars, sheep, oxen, birds, fish, and humanity.  It is also a theological witness to the faithfulness of God.  God creates and continues to sustain creation.     

But this cosmic sovereignty of God can also be frightening.  Listen to vs.3-4 …

3-4 I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
    your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
    Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us [human beings] ?
    Why take a second look our way?    [MESSAGE]


In the last 10-20 years alone astronomers have identified around 4,000 exoplanets—potentially habitable worlds orbiting distant stars. In a galaxy of over 300 billion stars there are surely more planets capable of sustaining life than even just these 4,000. (And that’s just the Milky Way galaxy—there are a billion more whole galaxies too!) In this immense and complicated universe, how can we claim that God cares about us human beings? God could be mindful of us in the way we might think once in a decade about a third cousin twice removed. But does God care about us personally?

Psalm 8 affirms our exalted status and vocation.  We have been given a vocation of care for and preservation of this good earth.  We humans, are as it were, kings and queens of creation.  We, therefore, need to take this vocation seriously but always recognizing that our dominion or stewardship is derivative, that is, it grows out of the generous grace of God in trusting us with this work, but always remembering that we are also subject to limits and boundaries.  To transgress these limits leads to serious consequences for ourselves and our planet.  Creation matters because God himself loves it. 

The psalm exhorts us to wise care of the earth but it is also poetry of the highest order, poetry which should evoke our own wonder and praise.  The great Jewish sage, Abraham Joshua Heschel, put it this way:               

        “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… [to] get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”