“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4).
“The Latin verb means ‘to climb’, so has the basic meaning of climbing so high that you cross some boundary. A transcendent experience is one that takes you out of yourself and convinces you of a larger life or existence; in this sense, it means something close to ‘spiritual’” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). “From an etymological consideration, ‘to transcend’ originally meant to climb over or across some obstacle. It then came to mean, in a figurative sense, the experience of being overwhelmed or surpassed. Then in a somewhat curious shift of meaning, it came to represent that which could not be crossed over. In being stopped by an object too great to be surmounted, one is said to have come up against something ‘transcendent’, that is, goo great to be transcended. To say God is transcendent means that He goes beyond the universe” (God the Creator, Jack Cottrell, p. 192). He equally exists apart from and is not subject to the natural or physical limitations of the universe.
The Transcendent God
- Who is free from darkness: 1 John 1:5
- Who cannot lie and always tells us the truth: Titus 1:2
- Who is untouched by physical death, time or limitations. With whom all things are possible: Luke 1:37; 2 Peter 3:9
- Who is uncreated and depends upon no one for existence: Acts 17:25
- Who still immensely cares about what happens to us: Hebrews 4:16
- Who invites us to have a relationship with Him: Revelation 3:20
A Transcendent Experience: Psalm 8: What is Man?
“This psalm is an unsurpassed example of what a hymn should be, celebrating as it does the glory and grace of God, rehearsing who He is and what He has done, and relating us and our world to Him; all with a masterly economy of words, and in a spirit of mingled joy and awe. It brings to light the unexpectedness of God’s ways in the roles He has assigned to the strong and the weak (2), the spectacular and the obscure (3-5), the multitudinous and the few (6-8); but it begins and ends with God Himself, and its overriding theme is ‘How excellent is thy name!’” (Psalms 1-73, Derek Kidner, pp. 65-66).
“This psalm contains one of the best-known verses in all of the Bible: ‘What is man that You are minded of him…?’ Ringing down the generations, this haunting question pursues us. As our knowledge of the universe has grown, the query has become more pressing. Carl Sagan notes, ‘As long as there have been humans we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people’. Is this the only answer modern science can give?… If science as science is reduced to using the words ‘insignificant’, ‘humdrum’, and ‘forgotten’ when looking at our world, then we need another source to answer the question, ‘What is man…?’” (Williams, p. 74).
The statement “above the heavens” reminds us that God’s rule over all things, both on earth and in the heavens, manifests His true greatness. God’s glory is manifested in the physical creation (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1), but what is beyond this physical creation, is a greater manifestation of God’s glory. Remember, the wonder of God Himself is far greater than the wonder of what He has made. “Out of this whole array, from stars to sea-creatures, only man can look at this scene with the insight to ask such a question, even in doubt; therefore it already points to its answer. Further, man has been taught to say ‘Thy and ‘Thou’ in such a setting: not only to acknowledge a Creator but to converse with Him. From His side, God shows in Isaiah 40:26ff., that the right inference from His ordered heavens is not His remoteness but His eye for detail; and adds in Isaiah 45:18ff; 51:16 that He planned no meaningless and empty universe” (Kidner, p. 67).
Why is it that only man can “consider” the heavens? “David is the purported penman of this magnificent psalm. Being a shepherd lad in youth he no doubt had surveyed the moonlit and starlit constellations on numerous nights as he cast his youthful and deeply reverent eyes from his sheep below to the heavens above. With prompt reverence he sensed in his soul that all he saw belonged to God. They are His heavens. They are not the precise handiwork of humans; they are not the collections of Chance” (Studies in Psalms, Robert R. Taylor Jr., p. 21). Note the word “ordained”, which means “appointed or fixed”. Nothing in the universe is there by chance, not even the movements of the heavenly bodies. The moon is exactly where God wants it to be (which happens to be the best location for it). This is also true of every star. On this point I am reminded that if the moon were set at less distance from the earth, tides would submerge all continents twice daily, and the mountains would erode away. “In relation to the vastness of space, the order and the importance of the heavenly bodies, what is man! Why did God invest man with glory? Why does God uniquely care for man?” (Gaebelein, p. 112). The phrase “take thought”, suggests God’s care, Who acts on behalf of man. In addition, instead of visiting the human race with judgment (which man deserves), God has visited him with mercy (Matthew 5:45). Jesus stressed the same truth when He reminded us that one soul, is more important than the entire created universe (Matthew 16:26).
David looks at the universe and is stunned and amazed that God cares for man who seems so insignificant in such a vast universe. There are “portals” on thisearth that we can face or encounter and get both of a sense of our smallness, limitations, ignorance and our need for something larger, better and higher.
- The Universe and Nature: Psalm 19:1
- The Bible: Romans 1:16; Psalm 119:97-105
- Jesus Christ: John 1:17; 3:1-2
- Music, Art, Literature: One of the purposes of the humanities was to help young people see that the world is far more than just the physical stuff around you. Such things are intended to link you with the real you (a soul) and your Creator. A good writer can describe a thing where the soul of the reader is in it.
- Noble acts of human behavior, love, patience, kindness, goodness, sacrifice, unselfishness, and forgiveness.
The Hopeful Truth
At our core, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). Human fads may come and go (Ephesians 4:14), yet there are the real and grand things that continue to capture the attention of honest seekers. Certain aspects of humanity move of their own accord towards such things as reconciliation, love, forgiveness, certainty, relationships, meaning, purpose, kindness and redemption. Such things persist. Such things are maybe more meaningful when life is tragic, or maybe we lose sight of the value of such things when life is a little too comfortable. When the gospel was first preached the early Christians found a number of pagans who were tired of the superficial life and who were looking for something higher (Acts 13:48; 14:27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). The great story of the early church is one in which individuals could not be worn down or overcome by the darkness (Romans 8:37; 1 John 2:14; Revelation 12:11).
The Positive and Grand Quest
The world leans towards the negative. It is a place of self-centeredness and with such an attitude comes constant criticism and unbelief which always seems determined to “debunk” everything of value, and undermines the existing order without putting anything productive in its place. It is a way of life that tears and attacks and which believes that all the best things of life are just disguised forms of manipulation. When people lose their faith all of a sudden they want to find a lie in every truth, a hypocrite in every Christian and an oppressor in every relationship. Thus, the message of the world is one of and which leads to despair, corruption, shame, degradation, bitterness, resentment, darkness, being irreconcilable, shattered lives and divided men (Titus 3:3; Ephesians 4:17-19). By contrast, we have an obligation to find the things that we should love or the things that are true (Philippians 4:8). That bring hope, unity, peace, love, and truth (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017