On the Eighth Psalm

Psalm 8 has lately been of interest to me, for a variety of reasons. It is perhaps the best singular encounter of immanence and transcendence in scripture. It engages in a constant interplay of the greatness of God and his nearness to us. Allow me to quote it in full (from the Grail translation):

How Great is your name, O Lord, Our God,
through all the earth.
Your majesty is praised above the heavens;
On the lips of children and of babes
You have found praise to foil your enemies
To silence the foe and the rebel.
When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,
The moon and the stars which you have arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
Mortal man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god;
with glory and honor you crowned him,
gave him power over the works of your hands,
put all things under his feet.
All of them, sheep and cattle,
yes, even the savage beasts,
birds of the air, and fish
that make their way through the waters.
How great is your name, O Lord our God
through all the earth!

The third and fourth line provide perhaps the greatest juxtaposition, placing “majesty praised above the heavens” against the “lips of children and of babes.” This interplay can be found throughout the rest of the psalm.

This also says something about the idea of saying “You are God and I am not.” The first half of this sentence is a fundamentally transcendent statement. In reflecting on it we are reflecting on how God is quite other than us, someone fundamentally, radically different. He is far beyond our realm.

For the prayer to have Christian meaning, however, we must understand the second half less in a transcendent way and more immanently. Many religious traditions hold that to say “I am not God” is simply the counterpoint to the transcendence of the first half. God is in charge and I have no relation to him and I must remember this.

Christianity, however, is quite different. When we declare “I am not God” we are acknowledging his otherness but are also acknowledging that he bridged that gap. I am not God and that matters to God so much that he came to me. He is one who loves (and is Love) and so he is unwilling to allow his transcendence to interfere with our chance of being loved. He has made us little less than a god, drawn us incredibly close to him because he loves and love is always something immanent, something close.

Christianity and the Christian will always struggle with the interplay of immanence and transcendence. Each age is guilty of overemphasizing one at the expense of the other. We always must remember that he is God and we are Not yet he has drawn us to himself and given us power over the works of his hands. Love refuses to remain distant and has come down to us that we may rise up to him.

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