Not the God I Imagined

Reflections on Psalm 8 —

God is Majestic and Self-Sufficient, capable of filling the heavens and creating praise for Himself.  Yet, in spite of His Immensity, He still finds time for us, and cares for our needs.

The world is rapidly losing sight of God.  To a multitude of unbelievers, God is an outdated myth, an urban legend.  Some accept a concept of God, but only as an idea, a force that is detached and impersonal.  To the contemporary Christian, God still retains a loving, personal aura about Him, but we have traded God’s supremacy for passivity.  We sing of His power and might, but when it comes to choice and authority, we have relegated God to something resembling a weak and worrisome grandmother, hoping things work out in the end.

We need to get back to seeing God for who He really is, not the imaginary concept we have accepted as reality.  We need the theology of the psalms to bring our thinking back into conformity with truth.

David understood the true nature of God like no one else.  He packed more theology in the nine verses of Psalm 8 than most sermons heard today in contemporary churches.  Psalm 8 is essential reading for those who really want to know the true nature of God.

He Ordains Stars

For starters, it’s good to get out once in a while and admire the heavens God created.

“O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!”

Space and the glorious host of stars are not random balls of fire, but wonderful testimonials to God’s creativity. The stars teach us many things, but primarily they proclaim the majestic nature of God.  “The heavens are telling of the glory of God, their expanse declares the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1).  Try as we may, we will never begin to comprehend the expansiveness of the heavens.  It is that very expansiveness  that gives proof of God’s limitless power and abundant nature.

We should not lose sight of the immensity of God. He is inescapable, filling the heavens and the earth (Jeremiah 23:24). He is not constrained, even to the highest heavens (II Chronicles 2:6). The fact that God created the expansive heavens, calling into existence that which does not exist (Romans 4:17), proves that nothing is too difficult for God (Jeremiah 32:17). His understanding is infinite (Psalm 147:5).  His strength, abundant.  His lovingkindness, reaching to the skies.  He sees all, knows all (Psalm 139).  The infinite nature of God should unsettle us, causing us to see past the things that are commonly accepted on earth.

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained…”

In those heavens, we see intention and purpose. God appoints the moon and stars.  They did not just randomly find their way into the sky and retain their position in space.  They were ordained, magically keeping their positions and arrangements in the heavens intact.  Navigators have used stars for centuries, their precise and repeatable positioning providing accurate guidance for travel. We cannot explain gravity, but we do know that Jesus Himself “holds all things together” (Hebrews 1:3).  That includes the stars, which will serve their role as long as the Lord requires it.

The intention and purpose of the heavenly bodies indicates that God wants us to believe in His Majesty.  We have to move past the accepted norms of society and see God for who He really is.

He Creates Praise for Himself

David’s reflections on God’s heavenly splendor are theological lessons in and of themselves. However, I want to focus on his statement in the second verse that is exceptionally poignant to our generation.

“From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.”

You have established strength…”  How does God establish strength from a baby’s mouth?  The only way we can understand this is by considering the alternate translation, the one Jesus quoted at the triumphal entry (Matthew 21:16).  When His naysayers criticized Him for not keeping His followers under control, Jesus reached back and quoted David…

Jesus said to them, “…have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?”

In this response, Jesus quoted from the Septuagint, the Greek-transcribed version of the Old Testament so familiar to His hearers.  That text converted David’s Hebrew, “You have established strength,” into, “You create praise for yourself.”  We can trust this conversion is accurate.  Jesus is the Word of God.  His cannot contradict what God is trying to communicate because His very life is an accurate reflection of God’s intent.  We can trust that Jesus knows what He’s talking about when He says that God can create praise for Himself from the mouths of babes. In a similar reference, Jesus said God can even make rocks praise Him (Luke 19:40).

The contemporary church needs to hear and understand the implications of God preparing praise for Himself.  We have grown arrogant, buying in to a false belief that God passively allows mankind the choice whether to love Him or not.  We think God urgently desires our praise, but would never stoop to heavy-handed, coercive tactics to force people believe in Him.  In modern vernacular, we believe “God does not want robots”.

Such thinking appears noble on the surface, but at its core, it is self-serving and impertinent. It dismisses important aspects of God’s self-revelation and attributes an ability to man that belies his fallen nature.  We ought not think so highly of ourselves.  The heart of man is deceptive and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9).  On his own accord, man is not capable of choosing God, even given the most obvious reasons to do so.

God is not some anxious adolescent, hoping to earn unsolicited affection from people He so dearly adores.  He is keenly aware of our frame; mindful of our limitations.  He is not dependent on us in any way.  He creates praise for Himself.  He is self-sufficient.  He needs nothing from us.  Furthermore, God is orchestrating a plan that ultimately demonstrates His magnificent glory. He has written the script and knows with certainty how it ends. He knows who will be with Him in the end–knowledge that would be impossible were it up to us to choose Him.  God does not require validation of His plan or His nature.  He is not vulnerable to criticism.  He does as He pleases.

The fact that God creates praise for Himself gives us cause for hope in our hopeless situations.  If you’re a parent with wayward children, there is an endless supply of hope in this truth.  God knows your wandering child.  He orchestrates praise for Himself in the most surprising ways.  Perhaps His plan all along is to create an unbelievable story of His sovereignty by leading that child into an impossible situation, and resurrecting a miraculous faith within him.

If we can accept that God is self-sufficient, needing nothing from us, we can also takeaway a valuable lesson on proper motivation.  I’ve been in churches that place high priority on sacrifice and service to the detriment of its members.  Service is important, but we should never overestimate God’s need for our service and we should never allow commitment to church programs to rob our necessary attention to spouses and family.  God does not need us as much as we think He does.  He can take care of Himself.  As He says in Psalm 50, “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” We should never think our little burnt offering is bigger than it really is.  All God really wants from us are hearts that are humble, contrite, dependent on Him.  Service offered out of such a heart delights Him greatly.

One final note on God creating praise for Himself.  We see in Psalm 8 that God creates praise for Himself to silence His enemies. Today, God is predominantly silent.  We don’t hear His audible voice, and so detractors and unbelievers of every kind mock and ridicule Him and His followers.  But these godless ones are deceived.  They foolishly ignore God and claim autonomy to do and act as they please.  They will be silenced in the end, put to speechless awe and fear when God establishes praise for Himself when it is least expected.

He Considers The Plight Of Mankind

God is self-sufficient, but that doesn’t mean He’s cold and uncaring, inconsiderate of the plight of mankind.  As David pens the words of Psalm 8, he is blown away by the fact that the Majestic God–the God who displays His splendor above the heavens and who can make praise for Himself–this same God thinks about us.

“…what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?”

The God of heaven thinks about us.  The Majestic God of the Universe, Creator and Sustainer of the heavens, the One who owns a cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:11) and feeds the ravens (Luke 12:24)…this God cares for us.  He has a bazillion things to do on His “To Do” list, yet He finds time for each one of us.  It is an amazing thought, almost too wonderful to accept.  Yet, God brings the fullness of His infinite nature to bear on our behalf.  His mercy is limitless; His compassion, inexhaustible.  Every morning, He faithfully makes available to us a fresh dose of His infinite mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23).  It is a powerful thing when the God of heaven considers us, and cares for us.  Even as he pens these words, David can hardly believe it.

The infinite God of heaven cares for us.  This is a truth we must take to the bank.  Often, God seems distant.  When prayers go unanswered, we get discouraged and doubt God’s good nature.  In those times, we must fight to believe, aligning our thinking around the truth.  We must not think that because God cares for us, He therefore caters to our timetable.  On the contrary, He owns the time.  He has written the script and His timing is impeccable. It is perfectly designed in such a way as to refine and shape us, if we are willing to wait for Him.  To believe that God is who He says He is, to believe He cares for us even when He seems distant, and to continue do so for days, months, years — this is the essence of faith.

He Gives Us Purpose and a Position

God is mindful of mankind.  We can see this in the way He situated us with a purpose and a position of honor.

“You have made [man] a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.”

God made us a “little lower than God”.  In Hebrew, the word for “God” here is Elohim, a powerful and unusual term referring to God as the singular Lord of the host of heaven, a great and glorious throng of angelic beings.  It is a great honor for us to be considered a “little lower” than God.  Out of all the other created beings, mankind has been given a special privilege, a high position in God’s order of things. Unlike the animals, we are made in God’s image, and assigned responsibility to rule over His creation, including the domesticated animals, the wild beasts of the field, the birds of the skies, and fish of the sea (Genesis 1:26).  God honored us by giving us plants and trees to yield fruit for us (Genesis 1:29). He fully endorsed us to fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28).   I think of this verse often when I am weeding my gardens.  It gives me incentive to be rid of those beastly thistles.

We ought to unapologetically fulfill the purpose for which God has created us. The world arrogantly and ignorantly casts doubt on man’s authority over animals, questioning the position that animals exist for man’s benefit.  Extremists overemphasize the suffering of the animal at the hands of heartless man.  Some go as far as cast shame upon those who enjoy exercising our authority over animals, who enjoy a nice, juicy steak.  God made man a “little lower” than Himself, but much higher than animals.  Animals are there for our benefit.  They are not made in God’s image.  They do not possess a spirit, nor can ever know God.  God, in His consideration for mankind, has given us a privileged position the animals cannot experience.

This doesn’t mean animals have no purpose.  On the contrary, God teaches us many truths about Himself and life in general through the behavior of animals.  It is also true that animals will be present in the life after.  The Book of Revelation mentions that God’s holy ones will each appear riding a horse (Revelation 19:14), a fun fact I often reminded my delighted daughters of when they were young.

We are a “little lower” than God and His angels.  Angels are powerful beings, beautiful and fearsome agents of God who do His bidding.  We cannot do nor see things they can, for angels appear before the throne of God Himself.  On the other hand, we have some things going for us that they don’t.  We have a body and a soul.  Within the soul of the believer there is transformation into the image of Christ, a process that is mysterious and awesome to the outside viewer.  The angels watch our story unfold with wonder and amazement (I Peter 1:12), learning about God’s nature right along with us as He deals with us in grace and truth.  Believers must suffer this life and all its travails.  It is a long and difficult journey of faith.  Those who hold fast to the end will rule with Christ in the New Kingdom (II Timothy 2:12), receiving honor and responsibility there that is commiserate with their performance here.  Our future responsibility is yet another way God has placed us just a “little lower” than Himself.

Conclusion

Psalm 8 is a masterful appreciation of God’s self-sufficiency and benevolence toward mankind.  God does not need us, but He loves us just the same.  I think of this when I offer to share a delicious smoothie I created.  I don’t have to do this–my kids did nothing to deserve this treat, but I offer it because I love them. Any parent that breathes understands this. It is a microchosmic reflection of God’s amazing consideration of mankind.

It seems obvious that we are not on equal ground with God, but I’m not sure we live that way.  We presume to have an inherently noble ability to choose to believe in God. We imagine He is counting on us to make His wishes for this world come to pass. We like living as if we had autonomy, reveling in our apparent freedom to spend our time and money as we please, passing judgment on others as if we had a corner on the market of wisdom.  We make up our own rules for proper treatment of animals and elevate the imagined sacredness of plants, trees, and rocks above the position God has given mankind.  To do so denies the self-sufficiency of God and thanklessly poo-poos the privilege and honor He has bestowed on us.

Psalm 8 teaches us that we should not be so arrogant.  I’m sorry, Aunt Edna. God does not need your coffee cake at the Sunday luncheon. He can make His own coffee cake out of thin air. But He loves you immensely and is mindful of your cares and concerns.  Let that thought blow you away, and give you a reverent fear of the Almighty God who cares for you.

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