What is man that you are mindful of him,
The son of man that you care for him? (Ps 8:4)
How closely do we look at the psalms? We might pass them by, not noticing the riches they offer to us. The eighth psalm, a “psalm of David,” is an intricate meditation on God’s love. I want to focus on one question at its heart: What is man? This psalm is a moment of wonder at who and what is this creature, man. But it is not only wonder at man in himself—if we consider the two lines quoted above, we see that this psalm wonders most of all at God’s love and concern for man.
And what is the occasion of this wondering? What brings up this question in the psalmist’s mind? He tells us: it is the experience of man’s littleness in the frame of the universe, how small man is compared to the monstrous, beautifully intricate workings of the heavens. Let’s think about how David responds to this experience. The littleness of man does not cause David to question the value or dignity of human life, but it turns his mind to the mystery of the love of God, who made all these things for us. David knows the story of Creation from the Book of Genesis, and so he knows that the lights in the heavens are “for signs and for seasons and for days and years” and “to give light upon the earth” (Gen 1:14–15). The moon and the stars which cause this wonder: they were made for man’s benefit! One could read this psalm as a meditation on the first chapters of Genesis, a song of praise and wonder that God gave man the whole world as a gift.
But there is one last feature of this psalm that I would like to consider: Son of man, as we find it here in this psalm’s question, is a title that the Lord Jesus takes upon himself. The Letter to the Hebrews even takes this psalm to refer directly to Christ (Heb 2:6–9). So while this psalm can be read as one of wonder at God’s love, manifest in the situation of man in the universe, it can also be read as one of wonder at God’s love, manifest in the mystery of Jesus Christ. He is truly God, but in his Incarnation and Passion, he was made lower than the angels. And not only this, for in his Resurrection and Ascension, we say to God that with glory and honor you crowned him. What love, that God himself would come to us, die for us, share his glory with us!
With these reflections in mind, we can step back and be led by David to wonder, in prayer, at God’s love. What is man that you should keep him in mind? And moreover, who is the Son of man? Jesus invites just such wonder from his apostles, asking “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15). And he invites us all to join the children and babes in the proclamation of faith: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).
Image: Milky Way Arc over Yosemite by Rodrigo Soares