Sunday, February 24, 2013

What is Man? Really!

I have been intrigued for quite some time with how we (Christians, atheists, liberals, conservatives, etc.) tend to misuse scripture for our own purposes. We so seldom see that our culture, history, family, theology, church, etc., affect how we read scripture. I have tentatively entitled my series of thoughts, "The Most Misused Texts in the Bible" (I know, not very original). My first foray into the topic was a look at Jer. 29:11. (See my earlier blog.) We often read Jer. 29:11 as a promise that God has a specific, detailed, individualized plan for each of our lives (One our doctoral students recently called this concept, "The White Board God"). Maybe God has that plan, maybe God doesn't, but Jer. 29:11 is about something else. Let me move on. 

Along the same lines, I am intrigued by our interpretations of Psalm 8:4. I first thought about this a few years ago when I realized that three current contemporary worship songs included the line "Who am I?," followed by some allusion to Psalm 8:4, something like "Who am I that God is mindful of me?" (from Israel Houghton and Michael Gungor, "Friend of God," ©2003 Integrity's Praise! Music and Vertical Worship Songs). Now, I am not trying to insult these songs (the others were by Mark Hall (Who Am I?") and Mary MacLean ("Creator King," sung by Kathryn Scott), not lightweights in Christian music). I actually like the songs, songwriters, and singers. In fact, "Creator King" is a great statement about the Creator God. These songs simply reflect how we read the Bible. We read the Bible through the eyes of individuals, while the Bible was typically written from community eyes. But that should be a different blog. Here are my thoughts on Ps. 8:4. 

Psalm 8 is a hymn of praise to the majestic creator of heavens and earth. The psalmist marvels at the wonders of creation. In the face of the heavens and earth, the moon and stars, the psalmist asks why has God placed humanity in the important place in creation--in God's image, a "little lower than the heavenly beings" (Ps. 8:5). The ESV translates Ps. 8:4, "What is man that you are mindful of him?," which is similar to King James and NASB. NIV does better with "What is mankind that you are mindful of them?" In his new commentary on Psalms, Bruce Waltke translates the verse, "What is a mere mortal that you are mindful of him?" This is a nice translation, that seems to me to address the point of the verse. A bit freer translation can be found in The Voice, which reads: "I can’t help but wonder why You care about mortals—sons and daughters of men—specks of dust floating about the cosmos." While some literal purists might scoff at the freedoms taken in the translation, particularly the italicized text that was added for clarity of meaning, I think that The Voice gets exactly to the point of the verse. 

You see, when we stare out at the skies at night, when we consider the majesty of the cosmos, when we reflect upon our seeming insignificance in the universe, we should exclaim, "WOW! And God loves us!" This psalm is about God, not about humans. It is about the great majesty of God, and also the amazing choice of God to place humans at the top of the food chain. When we consider the creator God, we should think not of our privilege, but of God's choice--God's sovereignty--God's love. And then, we will conclude with the psalmist, "O Eternal, our Lord, Your majestic name is heard throughout the earth" (The Voice).