In the Old Testament’s 8th Psalm we read a meditation on the awesomeness of God and how insignificant we seem in comparison. And yet, we human beings are still the pinnacle of God’s creation.
In verse 6 we read,
“Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor.” Some translations use the term “angel” instead of “a god,” but we get the sense of it. Men and women are just a bit less special than creatures in Heaven. And that’s definitely at the ‘top of the heap’ on earth!
I was reminded of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as I’m sure many are and have been, in reading the words excerpted above from Psalm 8. Hence the title of this entry. In this passage Shakespeare has Hamlet observe, “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
I’m sure Shakespeare was alluding to the Scripture verses in this psalm on some level. Even his use of the term “quintessence of dust” alludes to Adam being formed out of the earth to be master of all else God created. Sometimes we are better stewards of this world than others. Or maybe occasionally! We often abuse and take this world and all it offers us for granted. But the idea in Hamlet’s words and in the Psalmist’s have the same intent. Humanity is unique and very special to the Creator. With the mention of angels, and gods (or Heavenly creatures) and being compared to them, and its lordship over all other creatures and creation, in both pieces, it is clear that God has placed us in a very exceptional place within this earthly existence.
Hamlet does not give any gratitude or appreciation to the Creator of all and that may well be why he is so depressed and confused. Or it certainly adds to his emotional/psychological quandry. In the Psalm, all glory and adoration goes to God. The psalmist says, “I will sing your praise above the heavens” and “how awesome is” God’s “name through all the earth!” The latter knows who to give thanks to not only for his existence, but for all that has been created!
Hamlet goes on to say, “Man delights not me—nor woman neither…” In the 8th Psalm everything delights the narrator! As he enumerates the many things God has done for humanity, you can see that he thinks what God has done is truly amazing, praiseworthy, and he is grateful!
I think the Psalmist knows he has a purpose and is proud to be given this role by God; Hamlet doesn’t see any purpose to the grand abilities of himself or anyone else. He can list some of the attributes, but he doesn’t appreciate them. And he certainly does not see a purpose for them.
Another thought on Hamlet’s words, “man delights not me, nor woman neither…” Other people should delight us as God delights in each of His children. When we know that we are loved by our Creator, and then we love Him, it is indescribably easier to love our brothers and sisters in the world. And then we can delight in each of them as our Lord does. Getting there involves surrender, it involves giving up control, it means hoping in something we can’t always see. But we can see God sometimes, in creation, especially in people. Look for Christ in others; it makes them easier to love. Ask God into your heart and your life. Pray for His peace, grace, and for forgiveness for any ways you may have harmed His children, and yourself.
Hamlet doesn’t have meaning in his life. If you know the play, Hamlet can feel betrayed, angry, seek vengeance; he can hate and ridicule; he can conspire and cause friction; he can even kill. But he can’t forgive, he can’t seem to love, he can’t reconcile; he can’t believe in the gift from God that his life is so he can’t be grateful for it.
Interestingly, Hamlet is a lot like many modern individuals. They don’t know God, they don’t know why they’re here, they don’t know how to love or forgive, even themselves. There is no meaning in their lives and suicide often seems the answer for such as these.
I’ve seen it too many times. But we must not think it’s hopeless. With God all things are possible; because of God there is hope. I wrote a while back about Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” And I bring it up again because he was able to distill this problem of wanting to end one’s life to that single issue: everyone needs a reason to live. There must be a purpose to one’s life and that meaning helps us to carry on no matter what else is going on around us. To paraphrase Dr. F, “if you know the ‘why,’ you can bear almost any ‘how.’
For many, including me, we believe God created us out of love. In fact, as I’ve stated before, in my faith we believe He “loved us into being.” He does not need us; He wants us! It’s analogous to a woman and man who decide to have children. Their love for one another ‘spills over’ in creating another human being! They have enough love to give to more than just each other. That’s God’s love in microcosm. Our Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) contains so much love that it pours out in a deluge of grace, mercy, and love. For each one of us, as if there were only one of us. And that eternal, perfect Love is so immense and total and unending that He gives us free will to accept the Love or to reject it. The epitome of unconditional Love. Something else a married couple should have for each other and for their children.
He will give you the meaning your life lacks now. If you find yourself in a Hamlet situation rather than that of the Psalmist. God loves you! Don’t you dare despair. Believe and have hope. Everlasting hope.
(Some individuals have mental illness that requires more than just knowing they are loved and have a purpose. Clinical depression is something that a behavioral health professional should be involved in. Please seek help if you think you are suffering from depression of this type. Talk to a family member, trusted friend, minister, or anyone who might be able to get you to the help you need. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.)
One thought on ““What a piece of work is man…””
Reblogged this on Drowning in Lemonade and commented:
I listened to a Bishop Barron podcast this morning about “What Makes Life Meaningful?” which led me to go back and find this blog entry that I published in 2018. Here’s the link to his podcast: https://youtu.be/-oLVgaTfju4
Please read my entry, read the Bishop’s podcast, and share! God bless you! And thanks.