Same Words; Different View (Psalm 8:9)

LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
(Psalm 8:9)

“Tell them what you’re going to say. Tell them. Tell them what you said.” A speech teacher shared that old saw with me in college. In short, she wanted us to give speeches that left no doubt about what our point might be. David begins and ends Psalm 8 with these words. Literary analysts would call this an inclusio, a sort of set of parentheses that set off whatever appears within. A traditionalist composition teacher would call this sentence a thesis statement.

I can’t disagree with either of these comments, but I’d like to suggest looking at this closing statement of the psalm in a different manner.

Twenty-eight years ago, when I became a parent, I thought that being a parent was a pretty astounding thing. Today, having watched that daughter grow into a fine young woman and the mother of four children, I still believe that being a parent is a pretty astounding thing.

I could have made the same statement about the astoundingness of parenthood in 1983 or today. The words might be exactly the same, but the meaning behind those words would differ. Having experienced parenting more fully, I can comment on it more profoundly. I have no doubt that another twenty-eight years will cause me to look at the matter differently yet. Again, the words will remain the same, but the passing of time and experience will alter their meanings.

David starts off Psalm 8 with what might be considered a hollow and easy praise of God. Lest we think him shallow, though, he proceeds to explore that idea of the majesty of God’s name. He takes it with him and proceeds through a tour of creation. Everywhere, we hear that majesty echoing. Everywhere, we come to understand the message more clearly.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. Having watched a butterfly emerge from a cocoon and spread its wings, having tasted redbud blossoms, and having watched my children exercise their marvelous gifts in various ways, I can speak those words more meaningfully today than just a few days ago.

Life is rich, Lord, and you are the richness of it.

King of the Wilderness (Psalm 8:7-8)

all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:7-8)

Just over the east fence of my property, you run onto the Herald-Ferguson Conservation Area, a chunk of former farmland set aside for hunting and outdoor pursuits. Over the past decades, the Missouri Department of Conservation has done extremely good work in protecting the state’s wildlife. Under their watchful eyes, turkey and deer populations have expanded dramatically. Streams have been cleaned up. Invasive plants have been pursued aggressively. Streams and lakes have been stocked with all manner of fish. These people have taken seriously the responsibility of protecting the natural places of the state.

On my side of that east fence, you’ll not be allowed to hunt unless you ask me very politely. Although no state tax dollars go into the effort, similar efforts happen over here, efforts aimed at protecting the wild places that God allows to break out here. You see, it’s obvious to us that the flocks and herds mentioned in verse 7 belong under our supervision. But the wild animals?

The wild things–animals, plants, and so forth–don’t provide us with bacon and flour and eggs and hot wings. They don’t conveniently remain in our pastures or eat predictably from the feeders we set out for them. They don’t conveniently produce marketable amounts of fruit or grain with minimal attention. These wild things really don’t cooperate very well at all.

David looks beyond this troublesome fact and recognizes that humanity’s rule over all created things extends beyond the obviously useful things. As it turns out, those apparently useless things often prove quite useful. If nothing else, they provide us the glimpse of the creation that we don’t receive when we see a herd of cattle or a corn field. They give us a thousand metaphors for spiritual truths.

As I walk along that fence between my woods and the state’s, I’m pleased with the fact that they look very similar. I’ll try my best to act like a proper ruler over these woods into the future. Now if I could just expand that attention to all other aspects of my life.

Good King, Bad King (Psalm 8:6)

You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet. (Psalm 8:6)

I met Lou Milam this weekend. His name probably means nothing to you, but it resonated with me since Milam Road runs a quarter mile west of my property. Lou had grown up in the area and visited his uncle’s house, the foundation of which sits just across the line from my north boundary.

Perhaps it was Lou’s uncle who struggled to put up the fences that I occasionally encounter as I wander through my woods. At one time–not too terribly far in the past–my hillsides were nearly free of trees and provided the pastures for cattle. The knowledgeable eye can look at the size and species of trees that now tangle our slopes and guess when the animals last moved off the land. According to such eyes–not mine–it was 25 to 30 years ago.

Down the hill from where I spoke with Lou, I could have shown him a place we affectionately call George’s Folly. As our predecessors prepared to vacate the property three years ago, a certain fellow decided that it would be wise to discard a number of objects. He added them to an already established brush pile. The problem was that these objects included old computer monitors and other things not likely to biodegrade before the next ice age. Happily Lou’s uncle proved a better steward over the land than did George.

When God made man the rulers over the works of His hands, He did not say, “Go crazy and do whatever you want.” The Bible sets high standards for rulers and holds them accountable for failing to meet those standards. As a ruler over 60 acres of God’s creation, I too have responsibility. Happily, Lou seemed to approve of how I’ve cared for my slice of creation. The real question, however, is how God would approve.

Higher or Lower? (Psalm 8:5)

You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:5)

I am so wonderful! Can I tell you about my wonderfulness. I can sort of speak Spanish, work not only PCs but Macs, and cook up a dandy pot of chili. I raise good chickens, can teach writing with one arm tied behind my back, and sort of juggle. My singing is decent, as is my acting, and my sudoku playing. Yes, I am a wonderful creature.

Now that I have that out of my system, let’s get completely serious. Humans, after complete review, are really amazing creatures. Think of the physical things we can pull off. The mental things. The artistic things. Picture a figure skating routine. Remarkable. Then look to the Golden Gate Bridge or the microchip. Amazing on both counts. Listen to a Mozart sonata or a play by Sophocles. Incredible stuff.

People are amazing. We create new varieties of apples, design bridges to cross wide chasms, and bake chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chip cookies! We are indeed a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor.

Doesn’t David seem to be doubling back on himself here? Didn’t he just get through asking why God would bother with us? Didn’t he just finish pointing out how meaningless we are when compared to the stars? Come on, David, you can’t have it both ways.

But of course the human condition requires us to have it both ways. On the one hand, we’re standing in front of the Grand Canyon, mouths agape, recognizing our insignificance. On the other, we’re throwing our hands in the air after accomplishing the greatest thing we can manage.

In reality, there is no contradiction here. Just as God put the sun, moon, and stars in the sky, He did the crowning of man with glory and honor. How full of myself can I get when I recognize that I am not ultimately responsible for my wonderfulness.

I am wonderful. Fearfully and wonderfully made by a God much more amazing than the most amazing of humans. This is my place, a good place to be.


Sagan’s Empty Universe (Psalm 8:3)

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place, (Psalm 8:3)

The English teacher in me rebels at the idea of attempting to pen a devotion drawn from a sentence fragment or rather a dependent clause of a longer sentence. The man who bought a rural property partly because of how cool the stars looked on a clear night, however, cannot pass over this verse or subordinate it to anything else.

Years ago, astronomer and atheist Carl Sagan made a household name for himself by taking the untrained on amazing tours of the cosmos and by pronouncing “billions” in a funny way. When Sagan looked at the stars, he saw something too huge, too complex, too old, too amazing to have been created by any God or god. Curiously, he apparently thought it so huge, complex, old, and amazing to have sort of poofed into existence, created by no one and nothing.

Before Galileo, people looked into the stars and said “Wow!” When Galileo began to see moons orbiting Jupiter and rings on Saturn, the “Wow” simply grew louder. Gradually, the size and shape of the universe has begun to emerge more clearly to human eyes leaving us saying “Wow” all the more clearly.

The difference between David, lying out among a field of sheep, gazing up into the heavens and an astronomer today looking at the light of galaxies inconceivably far from us is not as profound as it might seem. Both views of the universe hinge not on size and arrangement but on the question of origin. For David as for me, the universe, no matter how complex, is the work of God’s fingers. Anything else–light years and Big Bangs, nebulae and dark matter–is only a matter of detail.

When I consider the heavens, I consider them to be the work of the God who created me. Suddenly, everything else that crosses my mind subordinates itself to that Creator.

Lock Your Doors (Psalm 8:2)

Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger. (Psalm 8:2)

Olivia went out of the QuikTrip store last night, dashing ahead of me. As she neared the car, I turned to the clerk. “I’m not sure where she’s rushing off to. The car’s locked.” Then she opened the door.  Normally I don’t fret excessively about leaving my car unlocked for a quick stop, but my computer lay in the back set last night. That’s rather careless.

How many locks do we use in the course of a day? This morning, already, I’ve used that car lock for both the door and the ignition. I used my password to access campus wireless in a classroom. I had to supply a password to log in and add this post. The classroom door was locked, but someone had beaten me to that, and Nathan had already unlocked the office door. By the time the day is over, I’ll probably employ several other locks of various sorts.

When it comes to passwords, various computer systems evaluate our attempts, rating them from “weak” to “very strong.” I tend to prefer “very easy to remember,” but I realize that such security is rather illusive.

The purpose of locks is to keep the wrong people out and to protect the people and property within. Whether they be cyber security or metal deadbolts, car alarms or The Club, stronger inevitably appears to be better.

How strange then, that David, a military man, should talk about building a stronghold–a fortress, essentially–out of the praises of children. How exactly does that work? I suppose it works a little like sending an unarmored shepherd boy, armed with a sling and some rocks, to fight the Philistine giant. When the big man goes down at the hands of the boy, how much greater is the praise of God?

I tend to look at this verse in this manner. If God can create security out of the praise of children, then he must be a very powerful God indeed. My car is locked right now, but my real trust is in the Lord God.

Which Came First? (Psalm 8:1)

LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens. (Psalm 8:1)

We’re ready to move our baby chicks outside. Their growth in the past two and a half weeks has made them quite crowded in their little storage-tub brooders. The odor of their presence–that’s a polite way to say it, isn’t it?–has become quite profound. It’s time for them to vacate the garage and take up residence in the great outdoors.

If only I could take those tubs out into the yard, open up the lids, and dump the gals out onto the grass. But it’s just not that easy. I’ve had to ensure that predators couldn’t get to the birds. I’ve had to safeguard them from drafts and moisture. The top hatch on their chicken tractor had to be reattached. Heat lamps needed to be positioned inside the enclosure and electricity provided.

Life, it seems, is complicated. I mention this as I think of  God’s glory not only placed in the heavens but spread throughout all of creation. For all the complexity of dealing with chickens or maintaining a modern household, the jillions of details that go into the physics, the chemistry, and the biology of life make my efforts seem like a game of tic-tac-toe.

My chickens will not appreciate the fine engineering that I incorporate into their outside domicile. They’ll be oblivious to the economics of eggs versus feed that determines their continued viability. They won’t understand the many systems and resources necessary to bring them water, shelter, and food, nor the profound social skills I’m required to deploy in order to sell their eggs.

That’s how it is us, when we ignore the glory of God as displayed throughout the world, when we think that by understanding an essential process such as photosynthesis or gravity, we can take some sort of credit for it. In reality, just as I can take no credit for the miracle of a chicken laying eggs, we can take no credit for the glory of God in which we live. That is, perhaps, the first and most important spiritual insight that we can possess.