Many of the psalms are beautiful. They soothe the spirit, and uplift the soul.
But I don’t respond well to Psalm 8. It just hits me the wrong way. This hit repeats itself every time I encounter the eighth Psalm, which is about every two weeks.
It was obviously written to praise God, by someone who obviously believed that God would be pleased and flattered by being praised and adulated effusively—much the same way as, say, Henry the Eighth expected to be effusively adulated and fawned over. As you read Psalm 8 you understand that the writer is obviously speaking to God, extolling God’s greatness—presumably in hopes that the speaker will thereby gain God’s favor. Read it and see:
1 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. 2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. 3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? 5 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. 6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, 8 the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. 9 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
So what’s not to like?
The addressee here is GOD—God the Almighty Creator of the universe, the Divine Entity compared to which no “other” is nearly as great, not even in the same league. “ 1 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” it begins, and poetically at the ending nine verses later says it again.
When you say the English word “God” (or the German word Gott, or French word Dieu, or a thousand different names in a thousand different languages), you’ve said it all. God, as they say in Islam, Is Great—and God’s greatness is affirmed and unquestioned in Islam’s sister Abrahamic religions long known as Christianity and Judaism. It’s about the only thing they can agree on, in between disparaging each other.
Why, then, if God’s greatness is so obvious and self evident, does Psalm 8 go to such pains to emphasize all over again, and again, how great God is?
“How majestic is your name in all the Earth,” gushes Psalm 8, as if God didn’t already know full well how majestic S/He is. Who did the writer of Psalm 8 think s/he was writing to? Was the writer not aware that the writer himself was created by God via an ingenuous universal system called “evolution”?
Emphasizing the obvious is redundant, it is time that could be put to better uses—such as doing what God has clearly told us God really wants us to be doing: i.e., Loving Each Other. Direct from the memories of astounded people who spoke with God during their near-death experiences come quotes* bearing these messages—from God directly to us: Love and help others; Love yourself; Love the person you’re with; Love plants and animals; Love the unlovable; Love each other; Love people, animals and nature; choose Love over fear.
Do you get the impression that God wants us to serve God by learning to love each other?
But no. Many of us do not “get it,” these divine mandates delivered straight from the voice of God via near-death experiences, much less mind them. Many are they who do not spend time loving each other. Quite in opposition to God’s declared desire, many are they who in fact spend inordinate time proactively despising each other. On grounds that must ultimately be considered trivial, many of them (them means all of us humans) spend time taking mutual offense expressed as badmouthing, manipulation, cruelty, terrorism, and the ultimate violence known as war.
And as we do these vile things to each other we waste time telling God how great S/He is—which, of course, God already knows, because God created all of us humans who waste time telling God how great God is. Clearly, we can’t get our act together as God would have us do.
…”[Y]ou have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger,” says the writer of Psalm 8. And I ask How, silly writer, is it possible for God—the All-Powerful Creator of Everything—to have an enemy or a foe, need a stronghold? Such nonsense.
It is not possible to be an “enemy” of the very creator of oneself. That ancient writer of Psalm 8 obviously was writing from the primitive narrow mindset of an ancient Middle East citizen, at that time in ancient history when antagonistic petty tribes constantly warred against each other—as petty foes and petty enemies—to steal each others’ territory, milk, honey, and virgins. Virgins were always especially valued—briefly—along with the milk, and the honey, and the very land.
For perspective on this, you can read all about the children of Israel and that Canaan-land of milk and honey, and (it is alleged) God’s Righteous Mandate that invading Israelites should kill every Canaanite man, woman and child—as if those innocents, resident for untold generations in their Canaan homeland, had done anything to deserve such ill treatment. Mygod. I presume it was an Israelite, and not a Canaanite, who recorded that God had issued such an ungodly mandate.
Anyway, how could such a mighty God have enemies? Can a real God have enemies? Who among the ancient Israelite tribesmen—self serving and mortal—wrote this stuff?
Yet here we are in the twenty-first century, so often on Sunday mornings, still extolling God’s name, sanctifying Psalm 8 as if it deserved it, still in modern America going on about how great God is. As if Almighty God, looking down upon us tiny, diffident, mortal playthings, didn’t already know all about greatness. Over-praising God seems to me a Pharisee-like form of hubris.
In hearts that humbly respect God, it must all seem just so irrelevant.
Alas, Psalm 8 goes on insistently. “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor,” says Psalm 8, meaning: “How could you, Almighty God, possibly care a whit for this small unworthy creature, a ‘little lower than the angels’, that you have blessed with existence?” Of humankind—the apex of cosmic and biological evolution, endowed with the most highly evolved complex physical structure and organization, possessed of earth’s highest intelligence and immaterial soul-spirit interwoven with a complex material brain—Psalm 8 asks: What is mankind that you are mindful of them? How could you, God, possibly bother to notice, much less tolerate, such a lowdown unworthy thing as a human?
Then—reverse gears—the basis for capitalism’s bias to exploit everything until it’s used up:
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: 7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, 8 the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
Yea verily. Humankind in the twenty-first century herds untold millions of cattle in toxic pens to be slaughtered for savory steaks; and more millions of adult sows birthing piglets in pens they can’t turn around in through their abbreviated adult lives; and chickens by the millions in ammonia-drenched factory farms. And fishermen disguised as factory ships netting ever smaller and smaller edible fish, consumed by expanding humanity for food, as the bigger fish disappear, along with slaughtered and dumped by-catch—functionally extinct, one by one, all consumed.
Wildlife disappear from the Earth as ever-expanding humanity builds out, out, and out past the suburbs, across former food-growing fields—into ever-declining wildlife habitat now measuring far less than human habitat. Insects and songbirds, those irreplaceable little pollinators and seed spreaders, both recently declined by more than half over all the earth. With human population grown from one billion to eight billion in only two centuries, and now on to ten billion in a little over two decades, with all those hungry mouths to feed, there is no choice. What can be eaten must be eat…including wildlife.
These checkable facts are the consequences of humankind as rulers over all the works of God’s Hands—all the little animals, and their modest little habitats, “under humankind’s feet” as Psalm 8 says. Alas.
Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. How great thy works.
I cannot stand to recite Psalm 8. I listen as they speak those words all so reverently, all so certain that God relishes their praise of how very great they know God must be—that same God who clearly tells them, in many ways: In Order To Love Me, Love Each Other, Protect The Earth.
No, I cannot. I remain silent.
Father, forgive us, for we so bumble along knowing not what we do. God help us.
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*500 Quotes From Heaven. David Sunfellow, 2021.