“When I consider the heavens the work of your fingers,
the moon and stars which you have set in place,
what is man. . .”
We really don’t matter much.
I don’t know that I could type an opening line less politically correct. I could smear ethnic or racial groups, and some bigot somewhere would cheer. I could cuss like a D1 coach, and some reader would thank me for my refreshing honesty.
But try this on for size. Walk up to your favorite kid—let’s make him or her some sweet pre-teen. Reach for her hand, take it in your own, then smile and say, “You know, Tiff, we really don’t matter much.” Visit some convalescent home and pull the same stunt. In both cases, such behavior would be considered untoward in the extreme.
Imagine saying it to activist gay and lesbians, or the boisterous crowds who oppose them. Imagine saying it to your own children. Imagine saying it to your parents, your spouse. Imagine someone saying it to you. “You know, you really don’t matter much.”
But that’s the intent behind David’s space talk in Psalm 8. When judged by the immensity of the God’s universe, human beings have comparative insignificance.
Western Christianity has, for centuries, considered pride the most malignant of the seven deadly sins, and with good reason. It wasn’t sex that led to Eve’s seduction by the serpent or Adam’s mimicry. They both wanted to be less like themselves and more like God. Pride goeth before the fall.
And it’s pride that lives near the heart of our consumerist culture. Imagine a television ad that proclaims to 50 million listeners that, really, we don’t matter much. Not likely. What all our marketing proclaims is that what our very special lives will be immeasurably enhanced if only we slip our hips into the right jeans or undergo cosmetic surgery for those crow’s feet.
But why signal out the media for special disdain when all of us, in thousands of ways every day of our lives, seek our own interests at the expense of others? On the job, in our leisure, in our most intimate relationships, we regularly, almost instinctively, put ourselves first. We are wired for selfishness.
Yet, each of us, literally, is of no greater significance than a grain of sand on an ocean beach, a single inconsequential leaf in a mammoth national forest. That’s what David is saying with this memorable comparison.
The character of the argument is both physical and aesthetic. As I write, the Cassini-Solstic probe is investigating the planet Saturn. To get there, this incredible spacecraft spent seven years journeying more than 2.2 billion miles at speeds that are unimaginable. Consider those kinds of numbers, and then ask yourself what is man?
But out mattering so little also an aesthetic sort of thing. How awesome are we, really, when compared to the diamond-studded night sky? We really don’t matter all that much.
But the song’s last bars have yet to be sung. All this belittling David is up to—it has cause, of course, because the greatest miracle is not a night sky or unfathomable, cosmic distances. Something there is, of course, that’s even more miraculous.
All the more reason for praise. All the more reason for joy. All the more reason for thanksgiving.