The musical Les Miserable starts with a big number focusing on the lead character’s status as a prisoner. He is simply known as a number 24601. This builds into the question “Who am I?” which will be later answered not just with his prison number but with his name “Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean.” Who am I? is one of the big life questions that we all find ourselves asking one way or another. Am I just a number or statistic (a big one during the pandemic) or is my status, value and identity determined by my job? What then if I lose my job? We may believe that our identity is determined by relationships by gender and by sexuality. If you are seeking asylum then perhaps identity is about citizenship. The big answer that matters is found by looking at what God says about us, who does he say I am?
Who is this God? (v1-2)
If we are going to answer the question “Who am I?” then before we go any further, we need to answer another question first. We’ve said that it is God who will answer the question. So then, who is this God? Well Psalm 8:1-2 tells us.
He is YHWH and he is OUR lord. Verse 1 points us to the God who is majestic, awesome, great. He is the creator God. This is why his name is excellent and special because his name tells us about his character. We tend to do that with nicknames don’t we? Sarah had a relative called “Little Richard” -a bit like the popstar. Now, if you met Little Richard you might think there was nothing small about him until you realised two things. First, that this referred to him as the younger of two Richards, secondly, when you met Sarah’s uncle Richard, Big Richard if you like then you discovered that he was massive! In Bible times, names themselves reflected character and identity. Jacob’s name referred to his tendency to cheat, Naomi referred to pleasant frangrance so that she asked for her name to be changed to bitterness.
God’s excellent name is “Yahweh” it points to his eternal and powerful existence but also leads us to the God who makes and keeps covenants. This is the one who is relational and merciful. So God is not just “The Lord” but rather, he is “our Lord.” We belong to him and he gives himself to us. This is going to become very signifcant as we work through the Psalm
V2. Tells us about his effortless reign. He is God without rivals. There may be enemies who seek to oppose him but look at the Psalm. Enemies are silenced in the face of little children, babies even. God’s strength is found in the praise of infants. The sense is that an enemy might mock what looks little and pathetic just as Goliath mocked David but Paul tells us that God uses the weak things to humble the proud.
How does God view you? (v3-8)
I remember a lady coming to speak to me after a service once. She’d been coming along to church for some time and I knew that shrstruggled with a lot of things. She wanted to ask me “What is the church’s opinion of me?” In particular her concern was her relationship to her partner as they weren’t married. My response was that what mattered was God’s opinion and the church needed t get in line with that. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t care about all of the issues in her life and relationships that needed resolving. It does mean that before we got to those things we needed to get to the Gospel. Amnd it meant that if God chose to love, forgive, welcome and not condemn then the church had to do the same. This is why I keep coming back to the point that it is what God makes of us, what he names us, how he relates to us, the value he sets on us that matters.
So in V3 -8 we come to the central theme of the Psalm where we discover that God sess humanity as the crowning point of creation. In verse 3, the Psalmist looks at the whole of creation and recognises that compared to the vastness of the Universe, we are small. To put things into perspective the earth is like small pea in a big room in relation to the rest of the Universe. So we might ask “who do we think we are?” Why should God even bother about insignificant humans. Indeed, the Psalmist deliberately chooses words that can be translated “frail mortals” and “sons of Adam” to emphasise how small and weak we are (v3-4). God has every right to overlook us.
But we are not overlooked. Look at V5 -6 …this is what God says. He says that
- He created humans “a little lower than…” angels/God? V5
- BUT crowned them with glory.v5b
We were made a little lower than … and here we have two options because the original text says “Elohim.” This could refer to God (his majesty represented in a plural noun) or to gods in which case, the Bible is talking about angels. Indeed, it seems that the Psalmist left both options open. You see, we were made in God’s image to rule creation for him. We were made a little lower than God. However, sin means we have fallen from that height. So, the New Testament makes it clear that when Christ came to earth, he humbled himself and took on human nature which was now “lower than the angels).
V7-8 Tell us that God gave humanity dominion over creation. We were made to rule it, to subdue it, to care for everything in it. Now, sin means that we fail to live up to this calling. So, the New Testament takes the words of this Psalm and applies them firmly through Christ. He is the one who was “made a little lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:6-8), he is the one who reigns, crowned in glory. He is the one who has dominion. So, then, Paul in Ephesians 1:3-10, reflecting no doubt on this Psalm says that it is in Christ that we are raised up, seated with him. It’s in him that we are forgiven, reconciled and restored and it’s in him that we can now fulfil our calling.
How should we respond to God? (v9)
Well, this helps us to answer the question “Who am I?” but there is a further question. “So what?” What difference does this make to my life? What should our response be to this incredibly good news?
V9 returns to the majesty of God, the very places where we started as we are encouraged to see God for who he is and how majestic his name is. A true understanding of who I am leads to a greater understanding of who God is and changes my heart so that I trust him and praise him more.
This means that my response to who God says I am should be seen in praise to him and trust in him. This praise will be seen in every good endeavour as I seek to live for Christ. My whole life is worship and witness. So, I’ll want to live in a way that shows I honour him. This means for example that I won’t treat others like they are just a number. It means that I’ll find appropriate enjoyment and value in doing a good job but I won’t let work take over my life. It means I can show faith in times of suffering.
It will mean that my praise includes witness as I give a reason for the hope that I have. There are going to be great opportunities for this as the Commonwealth Games are on your doorstep this next week.
Finally, it will include praise that will involve me proclaiming his Lordship in worship. It means that we set a higher value no being part of a church. This isn’t an optional extra. Being together with God’s people to praise him and pray to him is central to your identity.