When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers / The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? / And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him but little lower than God / and crownest him with glory and honor (Psalm 8:3-5).
Minute and majestic: David has well encapsulated humanity’s contradiction in terms.
David had glorified God as having an excellent name in the earth and His glory in the heavens (Psalm 8:1). God was able to establish a bulwark from the mouths of babies to silence forces opposed to him (Psalm 8:2). David had looked up at the heavens and marveled at what he saw: he recognized how small humans were in the grand scheme of things, and wondered why God was mindful of them (Psalm 8:4). And yet God had made them a little lower than the heavenly powers, crowning them with glory and honor, giving them dominion over the animals of the earth (Psalm 8:5-8). David had good reason indeed to praise the name of the Lord YHWH as excellent (Psalm 8:9).
Humans tend to want to resist recognizing the continual tension in which they live as both very small in the grand scheme of things yet made wonderfully and majestically to be able to exercise dominion in the earth. It seems to be easier to focus on how small we are when we want to rationalize the various ways we exploit and perhaps even oppress the creation over which we have been given oversight. At the same time we also vaunt ourselves in our majesty and devote great time and effort into many mighty works so as to resist the prospect of our smallness and relative insignificance in the working of the cosmos. It is hard for us to reconcile how we can maintain both of these propositions in our minds at the same time since they seem so self-contradictory, and yet both remain persistent outgrowths of our fears and anxieties about our standing in the cosmos and before God.
Yes, we human beings are minute in the grand scheme of things. The universe abounds with untold numbers of galaxies, all filled with innumerable stars and planets rotating around them. We live in a small corner of that universe in one of those galaxies; the great forces by means of which all these things have come to pass can easily crush us. Our time in this life is short; our abilities, at a cosmic level, do not mean much. We are constantly challenged and beset with various difficulties since the universe allows for life but has many forces at work which would easily destroy it.
Even so, man remains majestic, crowned with the glory and honor of having been made in the image of his and her Creator (Genesis 1:26-27). We can explore the universe and many of its mysteries. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, as David would sing in Psalm 139: we are able to accomplish complex tasks and can ponder our own existence and the meaning of it all. We are capable of great good and all that goes by the name “humanitarian”; we are also capable of great evil in devastation, destruction, and death. No other creature in this world could have the pride of place as mankind presently enjoys.
To this end we must anchor ourselves in David’s understanding of how minute and majestic we are. God has made everything this way; we cannot perceive everything, and we do well to continually confess the existence of forces greater than we are and which we cannot control or manipulate, and a God who created us and to whom we ought to give thanks and serve (Isaiah 55:8-9). And yet we do have our areas of ability and strength, and ought to exercise all such power to the glory of God, as a stewardship of the gifts God has given, and for which we will give an account (Romans 13:1, 14:10-12).
For David, human dominion over the animals of the earth is a given, an established fact from the creation of the world (Psalm 8:5-8; cf. Genesis 1:26-31). For the Hebrews author, however, there remains an open question regarding that dominion: he saw how Jesus became the Son of Man, made for a moment a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor in His sufferings and death, and all in order to be exalted to authority and dominion over the created order (Hebrews 2:6-7, 9). And yet the Hebrews author made it plain that not everything has yet been fully subjected to Jesus; he remained confident all would be subjected to Him one day, but it has not taken place fully yet (Hebrews 2:8). Many still resist His salvation; the powers and principalities remain at work in this world (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
As Christians we take great encouragement from how the Hebrews author saw Jesus embodied as the Son of Man of Psalm 8:3-8: through His suffering and exaltation we can find salvation, a kingdom, and the way we should live. We also ought to grasp the Hebrews author’s tenuous hold on dominion: yes, dominion was granted to humans, but a significant number of forces are beyond our power. In our fear and anxiety will we press down all the more deeply on that over which we do have power, and exploit and oppress to oblivion the creatures and resources of the earth? Or will we learn how to love, tend, and even serve that over which God has given us dominion, as Jesus loves, tends, and serves all of us who live in His Kingdom?
David could look to the heavens and see the work of God’s hand. When most of us look to the heavens, we can no longer see the work of God’s hand as well beyond all of the lights we have built for ourselves for our comfort and in our attempt to make a name for ourselves. Such is a sadly ironic yet fitting embodiment of one of our challenges in the present hour: we are hindered from confessing God’s great glory and our relative smallness by means of the haze from our diligent labors in our creative abilities to exploit, aggrandize, and make much of ourselves and for ourselves. We only want to make ourselves small in order to justify all our big works and minimize the effects those works have on ourselves and others.
We are minute and majestic; we are part of this creation, yet made in the image of the One who created it. We may be small but our impact on our environment can be large. We can discern such things so that we can give glory to God our Creator and live in harmony with His purposes and the creation He has made, or we can distort and warp this reality in tension in our fears and anxieties unto oppression and degradation of our relationships and our environment. May we all confess our minuteness in humility while giving praise to the God who has crowned us with majesty and honor, and seek to glorify Him in how we live and treat one another and all He has given us!
Ethan R. Longhenry