Consider King David, perhaps on a late-night stroll, gazing into a glittering sky. Moved to awe by the stars, he bursts forth in worship, "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens" (Ps. 8:1). The grandeur of the stars sparks in David an awareness of God's majesty. But David's awe quickly turns into a question.
The sheer immensity of the universe causes the young king to wonder why God even takes notice of humankind. As he gazed at the stars, David confessed that the human race is no more worthy of God's notice than so many specks of dust. "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (8:3-4).
David could see, perhaps, a few thousand stars in his day. Yet their spectacle impressed on him the smallness of individuals before God. Today telescopes, such as the Hubble, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and a host of others, extend our view of the cosmos far beyond what David could have imagined. When he saw a limited view of the heavens, he asked, "What is man that you are mindful of him?" Today many see a virtually limitless universe and answer, "Man is nothing." Science writer Timothy Ferris commented, "The larger the universe looms, the sillier it becomes to maintain that it was all put together for us." Need we wonder why researchers seem less and less concerned about crossing ethical lines in the pursuit of beneficial results for beings considered "insignificant" in the grand cosmos?
Undaunted by humanity's apparent insignificance, David stood awestruck by the dignity that God conferred on us. In the rest of Psalm 8, David observed that God not only noticed humanity. He honored us.
PEOPLE POSSESS INHERENT DIGNITY
David noted that people possess significance because God favored them with the dignity of an exalted nature. We are not mere animals. We do not exist as just another of God's earthly creatures, such as a cow or a zebra. On the contrary, God placed human beings nearly on par with heavenly beings: "You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor" (8:5).
The Hebrew word translated "heavenly beings" is elohim—usually translated "God" or "gods." Some have suggested this verse should read, "with only a little of God lacking." The Book of Hebrews, following the Septuagint, uses the word angelos—angels— when it quotes this psalm, rendering it "a little lower than the angels." Whether David was saying "with only a little of God lacking" or "a little lower than the angels," it is a marvelous thought. God created us with an inherent dignity which makes us anything but insignificant in the universe.
HUMANS POSSESS THE DIGNITY OF POSITION
David further observed that God has placed people in a position of high responsibility and authority. "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" (8:6–8).
In every society some people are called "dignitaries." Whether presidents or kings, senators or mayors, they derive a certain importance—a dignity—from their position. And because of their position, we accord them respect, even if we don't consider them particularly respectable.
King David marveled that God has honored humans by placing them in authority over His creation. God, who created the breathtaking universe we see in the night sky, placed the earth and its creatures under human authority. By doing so, God conferred on us the nobility of position.
David's nighttime musings provide solid evidence of our significance. The human race, although infinitesimally small in comparison to the universe, nevertheless stands endowed with great honor before God. He bestowed on us the dignity of an exalted nature and a high position. And that dignity enables us to set a high value on human beings—and to say, "enough," when some would threaten to cross ethical lines.
When we fail to value humans as inherently significant, we face grim consequences. "The treatment of human beings as things," wrote journalist Walter Lippman, "as the mere instruments of power and ambition, is without a doubt the consequence of the decay of the belief in man as something more than an animal animated by highly conditioned reflexes and chemical reactions."
King David, marveling at the immensity of the universe, recognized that God blessed humankind with special significance. If David could examine Hubble photos today, would his view of humanity change? Is it a quantum leap to think he'd still believe in humanity's exalted position? In the face of an immense-beyond-imagination universe, would he see us as cosmically insignificant?
On the contrary, he would probably burst out in the chorus of praise with which he closes Psalm 8: "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth" (8:9).
Jim Pence, a gospel chalk artist, lives in Campbell, Texas, where he directs Tuppence Creative Ministries. The web address is www.tuppence.org.