the psalm 8 balance

One of my favourite Psalms is the eighth. I’m using it – very briefly – for a baptism sermon this Sunday, which will have absolutely no room to even begin to extol the kind of technical beauties this gem has.

First of all, there’s the structure.  Check this out:

A Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth,

B who has set your splendor above the heavens;

C from mouths of babes you ordained strength, to stop the foe & avenger.

D When I consider the works of your hands the stars you’ve ordained,

E what is man that you think of him, or a son of man that you visit him?

E You made him a little lower than angels & crowned him w/ glory & honour

D gave him dominion over the works of your hands & put all under his feet

C all sheep and oxen, yes the beasts of field

B birds of the heavens, fish of sea, all that swim in paths of sea

A Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!

That’s a bit of chiastic beauty right there.  The widest frame of God’s glory, and within that the contrasts of the heavenly and the earthly ‘works of your hands’; all leading up to and from the middle, the intersection of heaven and earth: humans. Someone once said that, when it comes to what we have capacity to measure, from the estimated ‘size’ of the known universe, to the ‘planck length’, humans are in the direct middle.  True or not, that’s a cool thought.

Like the two triangles in the star of David, this Psalm is about the profound tension of being human.  Long before any old or new atheist ever protested the idea of humans being the centre of the world, we have ‘the baffled king’ David, who is flabbergasted at the thought of God thinking about humans.  And yet.  How inspiring is the irony that humans alone (so far as we know!) have the combination of sapience and science to grasp and be grasped by their small size in relation to ‘the rest’?  Psalm 104, by the way, speaks of purpose in creation beyond the comfort of humans.  Rock badgers, the land, the trees, the sun and moon and others all benefit.  Had David known about bosons, black holes, quarks and dark energy, he’d have found a way to speak of their delight in the provision of the Creator.

Which leads to what I like to call the ‘Psalm 8 balance’.  If to be human is to be “under the creator, and over creation” (as I recall hearing N.T. Wright say), then (as  humans primarily sin when they either fail to live up to their calling of being ‘over’ the works of God’s hands, or when they fail to submit to being ‘a little lower than God. (My understanding is that ‘elohim’ here should, as elsewhere, be translated ‘God’, not ‘angels’)  As Mark Biddle writes in Missing the Mark (p. 75),

“Authentic human existence involves living in and for the image of God while fully aware that one comes from the dust.  When this polarity becomes imbalanced in either direction, one falls into sin.”

Or Bruggemann, on this Psalm, writes,

Human power is always bounded and surrounded by divine praise.  Doxology and dominion its context and legitimacy.

Apathy is the enemy of the wonder that simultaneously makes worship godly and makes our ‘dominion’ humane.  And that is tension indeed.

And finally, there’s the way this Psalm just patient sits and quietly asks to be picked up and used to speak about Christ. The one in whom heaven and earth met.  The ‘man from heaven’ Paul would say.  The one who dared utter the words ‘before Abraham was, I AM’.  The incomparable God-Man.  The Only Begotten son, called both the son of God and son of Man, who didn’t leave his glory ‘set’ above the heavens, or just to the Father and himself ‘before the world began’ (as in John’s gospel), but who took flesh and let that glory be seen.

sacramentality

I have a serious looking book by a serious theologian on sacramental theology that has been sitting on my bookshelf for months.  I must have a look at it.   I only say this to start this point with a humbling admission that I have next to no experience of sacramental things.  Or perhaps maybe we all have more than we think?

The word ‘sacrament’ refers to a ‘-ment’ (“the result or product of the action“) of the ‘sacred’, just as an ‘achievement’ is the ‘-ment’ of ‘achieving’.  Wright defines the sacraments (Eucharist, Baptism, etc.) as:

…those occasions when the life of heaven intersects mysteriously with the life of earth, not so that the earth can control or manipulate heaven (that would be magic, not faith) but so that the story of heaven may become concrete, physical reality within the life of earth, catching up human beings within a world where all sorts of things make sense that don’t otherwise, and all sorts of things that might have appeared to make sense do so no longer. (After You Believe (U.K. title ‘Virtue Reborn’), p. 223.

All kinds of conversations come rushing into play here – or put the other way ’round, all sorts of tangents can be taken here.  But to tie it back to my opening thoughts, it occurs to me that there are competing forms of sacramentality.  There are various kinds of ‘heaven’ that are trying to achieve ‘-ments’ of their own particular kind of ‘sacred’.  For the Coca-cola corporation, purchasing and consuming one of their beverages is a sacramental act.  To use Wright’s language, Coca-cola’s ‘story of heaven’ finds concrete, physical expression when a Coke is sold and savoured.  Those who deny any kind of ‘heaven’ at all still have narratives about ultimate reality (or worldview stories) which find sacramental expression, perhaps in a new scientific discovery or achievement, bringing humanity one step forward (so goes the standard Progressivist Myth) in its march toward ever-increasing reasonableness.

One could multiply examples till the cows come home, using the implicit or explicit worldview-stories of travel agencies, pornographers, booksellers and political parties.  I only wish to focus on two points:

1) We all live sacramentally, so we’re more experienced at it than we may realise.  Indeed, the more subconscious and un-critiqued the assumptions and behaviour, the stronger the hold the ‘story of heaven’ has on you?

2) Christian sacramentality, both affirms and subverts various elements from other stories.  This is what Wright refers to when he talks about some things making sense that didn’t before, and vice versa.  The Christian ‘story of heaven’ is a story about being truly free, so it will subvert any story that enslaves in any way – physically, financially, imaginatively, relationally, psychologically, etc.  Of course, the best way to keep someone enslaved is to keep them from being aware they are enslaved, and whilst the sacraments of these enslaving stories may ‘make sense’ at one level, but the foolish wisdom (1 Corinthians 1) of the Christian story subverts them.  Slavery to Christ is true freedom.

wright – various issues

A new-ish series of vids with Bishop N.T. Wright speaking to various issues related to Christian belief.  Tom really works hard here to offer very well-compressed and summarised statements on some very intricate and rich concepts.  Enjoy. Continue reading “wright – various issues”

another science and faith article…

Here.  Interesting stuff…

wineskins at laidlaw

Monday nights, 1, 8, 15, 22 September 2008

7:00 – 9:30pm, Laidlaw College – Auckland Campus,

80 Central Park Drive, Henderson, Waitakere

Heaven and Earth: Where are we going? Does it matter?

We are excited by the opportunity we have to introduce you to some of the new faces at College. This group includes Dr Martin Sutherland (Vice Principal Academic) and the Heads of School Dr David Williams (Counselling), Dr Rod Thompson (Theology), and Dr Meredith Wheeler (Mission and Ministry). They will all be taking part in the series alongside Mark Strom.

Hopefully, there will be discussion over the talks over at http://wineskinreview.blogspot.com

anthropocentric ethics

Anthropocentric Ethics – In Ancient & Modern Perspective

The author/composer/poet/community which produced the text we know of as Genesis 1 observed many things. Just one of these is the uniqueness of humans in relation to our environment.

Day and night, earth and sky, sea and land, vegetation, and fruits, creatures great and tiny, both in the sea and on land…

And then behold – human beings. These humans are at the pinnacle of creation and are invested with the task and responsibility of governing the entire earth. Continue reading “anthropocentric ethics”

craig cooke debate: impressions

With expectations low (but not low enough to keep us away!), Damian and I headed to the debate  (link to series here) tonight between William Lane Craig and Bill Cooke.

I think we both left having heard little or nothing we hadn’t heard before, but nonetheless having enjoyed watching it all unfold.

What follows is not a full, detailed review of the debate, but (in all truthfulness) rather various impressions I’ll share (on my way to bed)… Continue reading “craig cooke debate: impressions”

good news for all the people

If only people in general –and Christians in particular– could grasp just a few key things that makes Jesus who He is… then I’m convinced not only that Christianity would have a better reputation, but –even further– those who aren’t Christians might be far less against the growth of Christianity…

People are scared about the growth of Christianity because they (often) think (and not without reason to) that this could eventually lead to a Christian state. All those voting Christians, voting in all those ‘religious’ laws, taking away our freedom, taking away our shopping on Sunday, etc. Many Christians are not at all hesitant to affirm that this is, in fact, precisely what they are working toward…

Now, this post is not directly about how Christians should relate to politics, but it does relate. I am convinced that the Christian faith is to be lived out in the public world, and not simply in private. However, the question is: “What does this look like?”

Continue reading “good news for all the people”

the heavenly reality

“Heaven.” What a mis-understood word this is!

For some, ‘heaven’ is simply a warm, fuzzy, good, old-fashioned or positive feeling they get when things happen to be going their way. Many others define ‘heaven’ in ways that are not unlike the Greek/Roman idea of the ‘after-life’ – in which your ghostly ‘soul’ floats away on a cloud.

Not only am I nervous about several overly definitive Christian definitions of ‘heaven’, (as if we could know exactly what it is like!) I’m also nervous that we may often mix one or both of the above ideas with the ideas we get from the Bible.

The promise of eternal life for God’s people is clear, but the Bible was not written to give us a encyclopedic definition of it. Rather than that, we are given pictures, glimpses and/or images of what it is. The biblical ‘heaven’ is more lasting than a fleeting ‘shot in the arm’ of cheerful glee, and infinitely more real than your soul flying around in a dis-embodied realm of clouds.

Heaven is the place where God is. It is not sitting at the far corner of the universe, but rather, a completely different dimension altogether. What seems to separate heaven and earth is not light-years of distance in space (or whatever), but rather the current condition of earth and it’s inhabitants. Even still, God’s dimension ‘breaks out’ onto ours in various ways. Heaven breaking out onto earth, is like God’s space ‘overlapping’ with ours. Dwelling with His people in the tabernacle, behind the veil in the Temple and now in our ‘hearts’ by His Spirit are all examples of this.

Now, God’s space wasn’t intended to merely overlap with ours. God’s intention was to ‘share’ His ‘space’ with His image-bearing creatures – us (think Garden of Eden). Human rebellion and degradation has distorted the image of God, and has left us (along with the entire universe) in dire need of restoration of that image.

This is where it get’s exciting…

Christ came (Himself a perfect expression of heaven and earth – God and man) and fulfilled what it meant to be the Image of God. His death defeated the power of evil, and His resurrected body is the ‘first-fruits’ of God’s restored order of being! God’s New Creation has begun! The reality of heaven has burst onto the scene, and it looks, feels and sounds like Jesus!

Indeed, the Christian hope of Heaven is not having spots of ecstatic bliss, and not soul-soaring in the sky. It is sharing God’s life in a New Heaven and New Earth that has been resurrected, re-made, re-built and restored to God’s intention.

That day is sure to come, but we don’t have to sit on our bums and wait for it to come. Jesus begs us to pray that Day (even just a grain of it!) into Today. “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Every good deed we do in Jesus name and in the power of the Spirit (and only by His Spirit, thank you very much) is a fresh work of New Creation that is not in vain (1 Cor. 15 – end of chapter).