Do you remember the last time you were out in the country on a clear night, when you looked up at the stars and constellations and perhaps saw the moon on the western horizon? Did the grandeur of the heavens once again strike you? What about the awesome greatness of the universe compared with puny man on Earth? This is perhaps what David felt like on that clear, dark night 3000 years ago when he puzzled over the question of Psalm 8:4: “What is man that You are mindful of him?”
What is so “great” about man? This is a relevant question among scientists today. The astronomer’s answer is that man is an insignificant creature on an insignificant planet in the universe. The biologist’s answer is that man is a highly evolved animal. The geographer points out that man is the active shaper of his environment on earth. The psychologist states that man is a bundle of highly conditioned reflexes. Many modern scientists assert that man is just a machine, programmed by his genetic inheritance. None of these answers gives man the important place God has assigned him in creation.
The question, “What is man?” is repeated in Psalm 144:3, and in Job 7:17 in a different context. But here in Psalm 8, the question is placed in the context of God’s majesty as displayed in creation. With this particular view in mind, we want to suggest four answers regarding the significance of man in the universe.
Man is at the exact physical center of the universe in size.
Before Copernicus (1473-1543), man considered himself, and his planet, to be the physical center of the universe. All the stars, sun, moon and planets were thought to revolve around the Earth. No one holds this view today, nor should we find it necessary to do so as Christians. Our physical location in the universe is not important when compared to our moral position. Created in God’s image and likeness, we are certainly at the moral center of God’s universe. As the visited planet, the place where the Creator became man and as man died on the cross, earth is center stage of the great drama of redemption in the universe.
There is an interesting calculation which demonstrates that man, however, is in one sense at the physical center of the universe. Consider the universe on a microscopic level. The building blocks of matter are atoms. Most atoms in the universe (93%), stars and galaxies, are estimated to be hydrogen atoms – the simplest of atoms. The mass of a hydrogen atom is 1.7 x 10–27 kg.
Now consider the universe on a macroscopic level, that of star clusters, galaxies and galactic clusters. The building blocks of the universe on this scale are the stars. The average stellar mass is near that of our own sun, 2.0 x 130 kg. Now what size would be exactly halfway between that of the smallest unit, the hydrogen atom, and that of the largest unit, the average star? A simple calculation gives us the answer.1 The midpoint of the scale of the universe is 58 kg (128 pounds), a mass which corresponds exactly with the average size of the adult human around the world. Man is at the exact physical center of the universe in size!
Although not working it out so exactly, the British astronomer, Sir Arthur Eddington, noticed this in 1927 when he remarked: “From his central position man can survey the grandest works of Nature with the astronomer, or the minutest works with the physicist.” 2
We do not know whether Eddington was a Christian, but for those of us who are, this interesting fact has a further significance. When God became Man, and the Creator entered His creation incarnate, He chose to do so at the exact physical center in scale of the universe. What condescending grace! Yet, coming in as Man, He nevertheless took the position of Head over all creation, for He was the Creator.
Man is God’s representative on this life-bearing planet.
“You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet: all the flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.” Psalm 8:5-8
This is the Spirit-led answer that comes to David as he considers the position of man on the Earth. This is the answer we also find in Genesis 1 and 2. Made in God’s image, man is given authority and care over God’s fruitful creation. All things are under his feet – sheep, oxen, birds, fish, etc. Adam named all the animals. He was given a position of authority over them.
Now this is a very significant point, for if there is no life elsewhere in the universe except on earth, that man is head over all of God’s biological creation. The assertion made by many hopeful people that there is life elsewhere in the universe becomes more and more a baseless hope as the possibility of ever proving this recedes further and further. For all the space probes – to Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn and their respective moons – have not yielded any hopeful signs of life, let alone any fruitful abundance as we have on Earth. Nor is there any evidence at present of earth-sized planets outside of our solar system, in orbit around other stars. But suppose there were, would they be any more conducive to life than Mars, Venus, or Jupiter?
On the other hand, the Bible clearly indicates that the Earth, of all the planets, was especially prepared to be habitable for man and related life (Gen. 1; Isa. 45:18). Man was placed in a very responsible and honorable position on Earth. Adam was made steward over God’s biological universe. What did man do with this position? Adam ate of the forbidden fruit. Cain killed his brother. Noah became drunk and brought shame into his family. And this has been the history of responsible man on this Earth ever since.
Pollution and environmental destruction are two examples of man’s failure in the responsibility God gave him. God placed Adam in the garden to “work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15), not to destroy it. This concern for the environment was encoded in the laws God gave Israel: “When you lay siege to a city for a long time … do not destroy its trees … because you can eat their fruit … Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them?” (Dt. 20:19).
Man is a moral creature, made in God’s image and likeness.
Unlike both the stars and atoms, man is much more than just a physical system of matter, governed by probability and the laws of physics. Man is more than just a complex biological system, although such complexity may be far beyond that of atoms and stars. Man is more than just an animal, although animals are referred to as living creatures with souls. Man is a living soul, created in God’s image, the offspring of God (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:7; Acts 17:28-29).
Now this has a very important consequence, namely, that man has a spiritual nature that will exist forever. In contrast to the rest of creation, man continues to live after death, in responsibility to God. “For to Him all are alive,” the Lord said, referring to those who had died thousands of years before (Lk. 20:38).
Someone has said that God pays man the supreme compliment when He allows him to make a choice that will determine his eternal destiny – accepting or rejecting Christ. Man is not a machine, or an animal, but a responsible person who will exist forever. Man is significant!
Christ is the perfect Man and Son of Man.
Perhaps David did not realize it, but the Spirit’s deeper intention in Psalm 8 was to answer the question, “What is man?” by presenting Christ as the perfect Man and Head over His creation. This is proven by the quotations of Psalm 8 that appear in 1 Corinthians 15:27, Ephesians 1:22 and especially Hebrews 2:7-9 which says: “‘You made him a little lower than the angels; You crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.’ In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by His grace He might taste death for everyone.”
If man fails in the central position God gave him, God brings out a greater revelation – the revelation of His Son, the perfect Man and Son of Man, heir of all that God had intended for man. But in order to have sinful men with Him, He must go to the cross and “taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). For He will not willingly send His creatures to that place of eternal banishment.
We see not yet all things put under Him. Now He is lifted up for all to believe. But in that coming day, Christ, the true Son of Man, will perfectly execute this responsibility, first given to Adam, over God’s creation on the earth during His millennial reign. This is the time of which Psalm 8 really speaks.3 Then we will see what man really is, in Christ. God has now put all things under His feet. We are waiting for the day when this will be manifested. Then men will say, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the Earth!”
1. First express the masses of the hydrogen atom and the average star in exponential notation, 1.7 x 10–27 = 10–26.77 and 2.0 x 10 30 = 10 30.30. Next, average exponents to obtain midpoint of scale, (30.30 – 26. 7) / 2 = 1.76. Then convert back to scientific notation, 10 1.76 = 5.8 x 10 = 58.
2. Arthur Eddington, Stars and Atoms, Yale University Press, 1927, p. 9.
3. Psalm 8 is the climax to the introductory series of the first eight psalms. They present the trials of God’s people on earth while waiting for Christ to set up His millennial kingdom.
By Doug Hayhoe
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org