Formation and A Sane Estimate of Me
Who am I? Eventually, all of us crash into that question. From my humble vantage point, Psalm 8 offers one of the very best answers. For the sake of my ongoing formation and yours, it gives us a sane estimate of who we are. It represents the first “Praise Psalm” included among the 150 songs and prayers in the Psalter. Here it is:
To The Choirmaster:
According to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.
1 O LORD our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Obviously, Psalm 8, a David reflection, begins and ends in the same way, a full-throated praise to the Great “I AM,” who is clothed in immense power and majesty. Psalm 8 is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:16, as He drives the money changers from the Jerusalem Temple. When the chief priests and scribes witness children crying out, “Hosanna,” these leaders were greatly annoyed, prompting Jesus to leverage Psalm 8 and ask a question, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies, you have prepared praise?’” The silence of the religious leaders concludes the Temple cleansing with a thud.
Psalm 8 is also used in 1 Corinthians 15:27 and Ephesians 1:22, as a reminder of God’s enormous purpose and plan in Christ and how ultimately His enemies — sin, death, and the devil, will be defeated and placed under His feet. His dominion is and forever will be over everyone and everything. Hebrews 2:6-8 includes a larger slice of Psalm 8 as a reminder of the same supremacy of Jesus Christ. By His grace we are partakers and sharers in that mega victory and dominion.
What does all of that have to do with my opening question? Who am I? Psalm 8 gives us two answers. First, I am very small. Any kid who has ever laid on his back and looked up into the night sky knows how tiny they really are. This is David’s view. When he stares-up into the heavens, his heart raises an essential question: “Who am I that you are mindful of me, that you care about me?” The vastness of the universe, even our own solar system, reminds me how minuscule I truly am. I need that kind of humble perspective. That just-right-view helps to slay the demon of pride and self-exultation.
Who am I? Psalm 8 offers us another surprising answer. Second, I am very great. What a paradox! Strange. Odd. Upside-down. David declares, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of Your hands…” God, as crazy as it sounds, has given you and me a significant place in His grand purpose and plan. Since Genesis 1:26-31, we have a substantial role in stewarding what God has created, both in the creation mandate and in the great commission. Though “the Fall” has marred all of this, and some of our dominion waits to be restored, His rule and reign is secure. It is in Jesus Christ, rather than in you and me, that the true greatness resides. My identity, as Paul declares in Colossians 3:3, is “hidden in Christ.”
Who am I? That was the very question Dietrich Bonhoeffer raised, the German pastor and professor, about a year before his execution at the hands of the Nazis. It was somewhere around March 1944, while imprisoned in Cell 92 at Tegel Prison, he wrote the following in long-hand:
“Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
Compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!”
(Letters and Papers from Prison. 1972, pg. 347-348)
I love those honest and passionate words. They move me in such powerful ways. Bonhoeffer describes my own deep wrestling. Here is the tiny me and the great me arguing inside of me, under the absolute majestic sovereignty of my God and King. Psalm 8 is my answer. Who am I? I am His and so are You. There is the sane estimate I keep.