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Psalm 8

In our world today, we have often lost a sense of wonder or mystery. The answer to nearly every question is available at our fingertips. Our cell phones contain a link to a world of information that was incomprehensible to those living in generations before ours. Science and reason have now become the “gods” of our modern world. Yet with all these “answers,” maybe we could use a little more mystery in our lives.

On this Trinity Sunday, the enigma that is the Trinity can aid us in recovering some of this sense of wonder. The riddle of the Three-in-One, Triune God has left numerous theologians and scholars perplexed and confused. Despite the past 2,000 years of church history and tradition, no one has been able to adequately describe the Trinity. Physics cannot explain it, Logic cannot define it, and Reason cannot express it. Metaphors fall short and analogies only get us so far.

Our psalm for this week, Psalm 8, also helps to provide us with some of that awe and wonder we are so desperately missing. In a time before telescopes and space travel, the created world was largely a mystery to humankind. Yet even the few stars and planets visible to the naked human eye were enough for the psalmist to proclaim,

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, The moon and the stars that you have established; What are human beings that you are mindful of them, Mortals that you care for them?” (vv. 3-4)

With the advancement of technology and the satellite and telescopic images now available to us, our sense of wonder and awe at the universe should only increase! If you ever begin to doubt the magnificence or power of our Creator God, go find one of those videos on YouTube that shows how small Planet Earth is in comparison to the rest of the universe.

When I watch a video like that, I cannot help but feel overwhelmed. I experience somewhat of an “existential anxiety” that makes me want to stop watching and turn off the video, closing my eyes to the vastness that is our universe. When I reflect on the fact that our galaxy is just one of a hundred billion galaxies, each with millions of suns, and planets, and solar systems, I am soon reminded that our Lord God is indeed all-powerful and glorious. In thinking about all that is contained in outer space, my missing sense of wonder is quickly reestablished. Likewise, this psalm helps to remind us of God’s majesty and creativity, and instills in us once again that profound sense of mystery.

There is a second mystery contained in this psalm. Despite our lowly physical presence and insignificance among a universe of other planets, stars, and galaxies, the psalmist declares, “Yet you have made [mortals] a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor” (v. 5). Even though our lives are but a breath of air or a passing shadow (Psalm 144:4), a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14), God has established humanity as the pinnacle of the created order. God has given us dominion over all of creation and has put all things under our feet: “all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas” (vv. 7-8).

This type of language is meant to immediately draw the reader back to the creation narratives in the first two chapters of Genesis (the first of which is the Old Testament lectionary lesson for this week). There, God instructs humankind to, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

Additionally, it is in this creation narrative that we first learn that humans were made in God’s Trinitarian image: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27). Psalm 8:5 contains this same image-of-God language, recounting that we have been made to be like God (but not made to be God), and are crowned by God with glory and honor.

It is only because we are mysteriously created in God’s image that we are able to have dominion over the created world. It is because of this divine spark of life contained in our beings that we are only a little lower than God. Despite the fall of humanity and all the hurt, sinfulness, and brokenness that has happened in the world since its creation, we still maintain the essence of the image of God in our lives. As pastor and author Matthew Stith puts it, “Human beings were created as bearers of the image of God, and even the very worst of accumulated human sin has not entirely effaced that image. God’s intention for us, in other words, is not to be thwarted by our disobedience.”[1]

Because we are created in the likeness of God, God is still mindful of us and still cares for us. Because of this image of God in our lives, we are called to take care of God’s creation as God’s representatives on earth. And in spite of our brokenness and sinfulness, the psalmist declares that we are still worthy to be crowned with glory and honor. Talk about a marvelous mystery!

As Wesleyans, we seek to point out and embrace this image of God within ourselves and others. While it may be marred and blemished by the fall, that spark is still ever-present and mysteriously burning within each of us. Even the lowliest and weakest humans–infants and babes–have the image of God in their lives, which gives them the power and ability to stand against the enemy and silence the avenger (v. 2). From birth, we have been instilled with God’s creative powers to oppose the dark forces of chaos and evil.

Through this psalm, we should be encouraged to recapture the imago Dei in our lives and seek to return the world to a time before the fall–when humans walked in companionship with God and sought the well-being and betterment of creation as its stewards and caretakers. In embracing the image of God, growing more into the likeness of Christ, and taking on our role within the created order, we are seeking to restore the Garden of creation and bring God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Psalm 8 begins and ends this hymn in the same way: by declaring our Lord to be Sovereign. Now, as a “good Wesleyan,” I tend to steer away from using the word “sovereign” to describe God, lest I be accused of leaning too far toward Calvinism. It is true that a twisted description of an all-powerful, all-sovereign God has often been used to hurt and subjugate people. When played out to its extreme, this view makes every evil and awful thing–rape, cancer, murder, drunk driving accidents, and deadly natural disasters–all part of “God’s sovereign plan.” Even well-intentioned folks quoting the cliche “everything happens for a reason” can actually cause pain or damage to those who have recently undergone a tragedy or loss.[2]

Instead, in yet another mysterious paradox, we hold the tension that, “God remains sovereign but has given us the responsibility to rule over this planet on his behalf.”[3] We affirm God as the supreme ruler over creation, but in making us “a little less than divine,” God gives us the freedom to make decisions and act on our free will–in the hope that we act according to God’s will.

Furthermore, in our attempt as Wesleyans to maintain a focus on the free will of humanity and the flexibility of an ever-creating God, perhaps we have gone too far in the other direction. Perhaps we have forgotten that only a God who creates the wonders of the world–from the Rocky Mountains to the vast Pacific Ocean, from the beauty of a full moon to the greatness of the Canis Majoris star–can truthfully be called supreme, majestic, and preeminent. Perhaps the word “sovereign” needs to be added back into our theological vocabularies as we attempt to adequately describe our mysterious and wonderful Creator God.

On this Trinity Sunday, may we recapture some of the mystery of God. May we recover a sense of wonder and awe. May we seek to live out the image of God in our lives. And may we be humbled by the reminder that that we serve an infinite and sovereign God. [1]Stith, Matthew, “Commentary on Psalm 8,” Working Preacher, [2]Hamilton, Adam, Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016). [3]Ibid., 31.