Psalm 8 Includes Computers

How do computers fit into creation?

The moon and stars, flocks and herds, wild animals, birds and fish. Psalm 8 lists each of these as part of God’s creation. But how do computers fit into creation?

To begin, creation is, in fact, everything that God has ordained to be. This includes the latent possibilities in creation waiting to be unfolded: the arts, cuisine, fashion, architecture, agriculture, education, government, and, yes, even computer science.

Verses 3-8 of Psalm 8 explore the place of humans in the creation. It begins by raising a paradox of sorts. The Psalmist observes that “When I consider your heavens . . . what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (vs. 3-4). And yet it states that God has made us “rulers over the works of his hands” and “put everything under our feet” (vs. 6), a position way out of proportion to our relative size. The universe is vast and marvelous. We are just insignificant little specks. Nevertheless, this psalm reminds us of the responsibility we have as stewards of God’s vast creation.

This psalm echoes the cultural mandate from Gen. 1:28 given to Adam and Eve in the garden to care for the earth and to “fill the earth.” This notion of “filling the earth” does not just mean having lots of children, but it includes unfolding all the possibilities in creation. This includes the many disciplines represented here at Calvin College: art, music, literature, humanities, social sciences, mathematics, natural sciences and engineering, and computer science – all areas of creation in which we are called to exercise both freedom and responsibility.

DATA & IDOLS
As it turns out, computers can be really helpful in stewarding creation; they are excellent tools for analyzing, monitoring, simulating and visualizing data about creation. However, as computer scientists we need to keep data within a larger perspective. God’s creation is both complex and diverse; God has made each thing “according to its kind,” but as computer scientists we can sometimes develop a sort of tunnel vision – seeing everything as “nothing but” information, data or algorithms. Not everything that counts can be counted, and ruling over the works of God’s hands begins with recognizing the diversity and complexity of creation.

Somewhere near the beginning of the Biblical story, the human family fell into sin, and all creation fell under a curse. In the words of Romans 8:22, “the whole creation has been groaning.” We don’t need to look far to see how the fall has affected computer technology. We confess that we have not always obediently unfolded technology in ways that God intended.

Although this psalm states we were made a “little lower than the angels,” sometimes we look to technology to become a little more than the angels. Unlike this psalm, which opens and closes declaring “how majestic is the Lord’s name in all the earth” we have the tendency to make a name for ourselves, striving to build our own modern-day towers of Babel. We are tempted to look to technology as saviour of the human condition. We make technology an idol. Rather than giving praise to God for creation, we invert things, replacing the creator with something in creation.

But God did not leave us without hope. Psalm 8 is explicitly quoted in several places in the New Testament, such as Hebrews 2, where it is connected to the significance of Jesus’ life. Because of sin, we cannot fulfill the expectations of Psalm 8 on our own. But Jesus, who took on human nature, perfectly succeeds where we have failed, and through him all things are being redeemed, including technology. In the words of former Calvin College professor Gordon Spykman, “Nothing matters but the kingdom, but because of the kingdom everything matters.” The kingdom includes computer science, and computing also matters to God!

While Psalm 8 does not explicitly mention computers, they are certainly part of the potential in God’s good creation, an area put under our feet to unfold and develop responsibly.  As we delight at the ongoing technological possibilities in creation, we can join the psalmist in proclaiming: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” 

  • Derek C. Schuurman is a Canadian currently living in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is professor of computer science at Calvin University. Prior to arriving at Calvin, he worked as an engineer and taught for many years at Redeemer University. He is a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation and an Associate Fellow of the Kirby Laing Center for Public Theology. Besides his technical interests he is interested in faith and technology issues. He is the author of Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology (IVP, 2013) and a co-author of A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers (IVP, 2022).

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