“You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings” Psalm 8
I suppose it is a mark of our humanity to bridle a bit at coming in third here. First, God; then his angels; then, somewhere in the back 40, humankind. The entire natural world is at our feet, according to David; but somehow it stings a little to know that some folks are more heavenly endowed than we are.
That’s not David’s point. In fact, I think he’s attempting the opposite. What amazes him is that the Creator of the Universe (and all universes) actually dallies with measly little us. That’s what’s amazing to him. More, that’s what’s shocking.
And the point here is that we’re part and parcel of Him. The point is that, being so nearly divine, we’re endowed with splendiferous character. The point is that God’s incredible love endows us with so much of him that we can’t help but fall, well, speechless, when we try to understand it.
The basic paradox of the poem is here again, in spades. “God,” David seems to be saying, “for the life of me I can’t get my words around your magnificence.” That he can’t do the job, however, doesn’t stop him from trying. He still gives it his best shot, but the result is a kind of yo-yo—and we’re at the end of the string.
“What is man that you’re mindful of him?” makes us seem so enfeebled that it would be difficult to overestimate our insignificance. Yet—and up we go again—a verse later he’s awed by the fullness of our own (can I say it this way?) human divinity. One translation renders this verse this way: “you have made him a little less than God.” That big. That blessed.
The incredible cartoon image of verse three—God’s fingertips play with constellations as if they were key rings—makes us, in comparison, almost laughable; and yet, David says, we’re part and parcel of the divine. That he stoops at all is sheer miracle. Try to hang on to the incredible modulation in this psalm: we’re minute, but we’re glorious; we’re Lilliputian, but we’re behemoth.
The utterance given to David by the Holy Spirit comes from the depths of his reverie for the Lord God Almighty. He just can’t say enough about the love of God; but that he can’t doesn’t stop him for a moment. Don’t you love that?
He is talking about man, pre-fall, or so it seems. We might speculate that whatever our Edenic ancestors looked like before one savory apple—but it was likely more ethereal, more divine than it was when the snake sauntered off, snickering into the ooze. We got ourselves dirtied, smudged, our knees scraped—and worse, much worse.
But no matter, David seems to say. We’re still blessed.
Honestly, in this psalm he seems incapable of sobriety. He’s drunk with love and awe.
We all are strange and volatile mixes of divine love (the image of God) and human fraility (sin itself). Our best deeds may be filthy rags, imputed as they are with sin; but every day good people run into burning buildings to save total strangers. We are, at once, saints and sinners.
Psalm 8—when it’s all written up—is about our divinity, our being loved, our being blessed. And how incredible that is, how amazing, how downright shocking.
That God loves us doesn’t so much leave David speechless as babbling.
But then, David’s babbling is a blessing beyond words.