Psalm 8 and Space Exploration
8:1: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
The psalmist identifies himself and his people with the God whom he is about to praise by calling God our God–an acknowledgement similar to one voiced centuries later by the apostle Paul:
“For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not everyone knows this” (1 Cor. 8:5-7 NIV).
Not everyone knows this–but they, the psalmist’ people, do, and the psalmist is eager to give this one true God the honor due him for being God and for creating all that exists. For the majesty of God is plainly visible in all that he has created; his name alone is to be honored.
“I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word” (Ps. 138:2 NIV).
There is an implied comparison in the last statement of this first verse of Psalm 8, and it is especially appropriate for the day and age in which we now live, the scientific age. Mankind proudly boasts of its achievements in space and exploration of the heavens. Yet the psalmist sees beyond these puny endeavors of which the world makes much. He sees the majesty of God beyond the heavens, where God has “set his glory.”
I remember when the first lunar landing occurred and was televised. I happened to be in the military then, and it seemed like everyone in our unit but myself was gathered around a television set at that late-night hour to witness that historic occasion . The next day, a fellow soldier seemed puzzled that I had not joined them in their awe of the moment. I did not tell him why, because I had not yet sorted my reasons and motives through, but later I determined that I simply was not impressed as much as they were with the achievements of man in the heavens. Through the Word and God’s Spirit within me, I had already seen the glories of my God in the heaven above the heavens, It’s hard to be impressed with the games of fellow human beings when you have met grander things of heaven. Or as the poet Emily Dickinson has put it:
“God permits industrious angels afternoons to play.
I met one–forgot my schoolmates, all for him straightaway.
God calls home the angels promptly at the setting sun.
I missed mine.
How dreary playing marbles after playing the crown!”
Or as Scripture puts it, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight” (Lk. 16:15 NIV).
Not that space exploration itself is detestable in God’s sight, but certainly the pride of man in doing anything apart from seeking to give God glory is. and that is quite often the attitude in exploring space–and much else that man does. This is not a new problem specific only to our modern space age, but has been around ever since man has been around. I seem to remember something about an attempt to build a tower ages ago that would reach up to the heavens and glorify man:
“Let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:3 NIV).
That ancient desire to reach the heavens could be called the space age of the past. But the psalmist will have no part in such an attitude, and in the opening verse rejoices to give God praise for the glory of the created cosmos.
8:2: “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger”
The psalmist here makes a dramatic shift in scene, from the glories of the heavens to the glory of children. This striking change is all the more powerful because of the huge contrast between the two subjects of the psalmist’ praise, the huge heavens and the tiny infants. Why does he do this, make this sudden shift? He tells us, “to silence the foe and the avenger.”
A verse from the New Testament helps explain this. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Ptr. 3:15 NIV).
An example from real life helps illustrate more how this is done. A neighbor once told me this story about taking his family up a mountainside in a tram. It was full of noisy, chatting people until his little girl started singing, “Jesus Loves Me.” The car quickly quieted and became even quieter as she sang the song over and over. When the car reached the top, the father said you could hear a pin drop.
That is what true praise of God does: It silences God’s foes–and the pride of man. Just as our good deeds done in Christ stop the mouths of foolish men, so does the majesty of God’s creation. It is so powerful and so clear to all who care to look that even a little child sees that there is a God and that he has shown himself in what he has created.
“What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19,20 NIV).
There is no excuse for failing to see what is so easily seen, that God is and that he is majestic, as his creation so abundantly shows us. Nevertheless, many choose to ignore the majesty of God and use his heavenly creation for their own purposes. I came across a Christian’s experience in this regard that illustrates this sadly common arrogance of man.
This believer was crossing the sea in a ship when he came out on deck at night and struck up a conversation with the captain of the ship, who was an atheist. When the conversation got around to God, the captain became somewhat testy and pointed up to the stars and said, “Those stars are the only god I have. They have guided me safely through many a journey upon these seas.”
The Christian looked up at the black night sky and the many bright stars, then replied to the captain, “My God created your god.”
The vast, majestic heavens above us are meant to awe us–if only we will honestly consider them.
8:3 “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place . . .”
What is the proper response to such consideration? We are given the answer in verse four: We just naturally wonder:
8:4: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
Again, the contrast between the vast heavens and tiny man. And verse four asks a good question: Why has God done it this way? What is his purpose in paying such close attention to such a minute speck of dust as man in the midst of a galactic ocean of space dust? The answer is found in another passage of Scripture:
“My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9 NIV).
The created universe is not about us who live in it. It is about the One who created it. It is precisely because frail, weak man has been given such a high position over all else that has been created that the power of God stands out all the more clearly. For it is thus quite clear that there is something special within man that distinguishes him from all else in creation and enables him to rule over it.
8:5-8: “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You 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 swim the paths of the seas.”
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7 RSV).
But there are those who choose not to see this elementary truth, that man could never accomplish such mastery over all else in creation by his own powers. So averse are they to acknowledging that it is only by God’s gift to man that this is so that they dream up the completely irrational fantasy that this all came to be by chance and time a natural tendency of matter and energy, and then they give it the name of evolution. For this flagrant and determined rejection of truth they will pay the ultimate penalty. “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Ths. 2:10 NIV).
Nevertheless, though many thus despise the majesty of God so evident throughout the creation, their lack of faith does not alter the truth.
“What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: ‘So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge'” (Rom. 3:3,4 NIV).
The creation remains “out there” no matter what unbelieving man says about what it is and how it came to be. The heavens remain the silent witness to the truth of God’s existence and power and majesty, even as generation after generation of man dies and disappears. This too is the glory and majesty of God. And so the psalmist closes with a final lifting of praise to that profound truth.
8:9: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
Thus the psalm ends with the same words in which it began, for the psalm is a hymn of praise to the One who is the beginning and the end. Man may come and go, earth and the heavens may wear out, but God and his Word remain forever.
“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail” (Is. 51:6 NIV).
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mt. 24:35 NIV).
Praise the Lord!