There is a Bible study group that meets in a coffee shop I frequent. They sit at a long table near an easy chair where I like to relax, drink my coffee, and read the morning paper or write.
From the first time I saw them, I suspected we might be on different pages, theologically. As I listened to their leader, I realized we were not only on different pages, but in different books, possibly even different libraries.
Through no fault of their own, they irritated me. Perhaps it was their understanding of God and God's ways. Perhaps it was their leader's style. Perhaps it was coming face-to-face with a type of Bible study that I associated with my own flawed past. In any event, it bugged me that they were there, interrupting my quiet space with a Bible discussion I'd rather not listen to.
I commented on this to my wife, sharing my irritation and frustration, and adding my disdain for both their theology and for their approach to the Bible. In her calm wisdom, my dear wife said one sentence that changed my attitude:
“For whom Christ died.”
Today's Psalm is a popular psalm, one that has been set to music multiple times, including the well-known “Majesty and Glory of Your Name” by Tom Fettke. It is a beautiful piece of poetry, where you can almost see the young David considering the night sky as he tends his family's flocks.
And yet, there is a lesson here that is easy to see but also easy to skip over.
Verse 5 tells us that God has made human beings a little lower than Godself. (The KJV says lower than angels, but most scholars believe that is a poor translation.) Let's consider two implications of that verse.
First of all, the Psalmist has just talked about the “work of your fingers,” and included the moon and the stars. In all the vastness of creation, God, why do you even think of humans, much less care for them? It is certainly arguable that any god powerful enough to create the universe, and LARGE enough to do so, would have no interest in some life form on one planet of one star within that vast expanse.
And yet, the Psalmist says that humans are the apex, the height of God's creation. We are more amazing, more important, than even the stars themselves. We are the apple of God's eye, and God has crowned all of humankind with “glory and honor.”
It is dangerous to base theology on poetry, but I think we can agree that whatever your theology of humankind's relationship to God, it has to include the value and importance that God has chosen to place on the human race. In the face of every sort of failing and sin and depradation that humans seem capable of, it is critical to remember that at its root, the human race is God's prize creation. Whatever we see in front of us, we have to remember that a failed person or a failed people is not God's desire or intention.
That's an important point. It says something about the value of human life, about the view of others that we carry and apply, and about having an optimistic outlook on the possibility of discovering your own value to God.
But there's a second implication of this — one that is easy to apply in the abstract, but sometimes hard to remember in the here-and-now. And that is this:
Every person is valued in this way by God — not just the ones that appeal to me.
When we love someone, or care for someone, it is easy to tell them “you are loved of God.” When we like someone, or admire someone, we can affirm their place in God's plan with no problem. When someone is like us, in culture or values or theology or politics, we claim both kinship with them and blessing for them.
Interestingly, we also usually find it relatively easy to apply this principle to people who are down and out. The addict, the poor, the lost, the struggling — we look at them and say “in spite of your current circumstances, please know how much God loves and values you.”
But what about those people that threaten us? What about those people that we find irritating, or difficult, or annoying? What about those groups that we stand in opposition to, whose values we oppose, even that we consider a threat to ourselves and to society in general?
Guess what — they are just a little lower than God as well.
You can't have it both ways. You can't apply this principle to humankind in general, then make exceptions. At root, all humans are equal before God, and equally valuable. Including that Bible study group that annoys me.
Please note — I am not saying anything about where people go with their lives and their choices, or even about how, in the end, we have to relate to them.
But what I am saying, emphatically, is that this principle of God-value HAS to be our starting point. It has to be a guiding principle in all our subsequent interactions and relationships: every person you ever meet is important to God.
For whom Christ died. Amen.