The contemporary worship song, Friend of God, by Israel Houghton introduced me to the text of Psalm 8, and its important questions about the relationship between humans and God.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
   and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9 NRSV)

God, in God’s infinite greatness and power, spends time caring for mortals. We have not only breath in our lungs but an ability to rely on the creator of the universe for what we need most.

The first three chapters of Genesis wonderfully explicate both the vastness of God’s power and the depth of God’s care. I suspect this is why we get two perspectives on God’s creation of the world right next to each other. Genesis 1 provides a potent piece of Hebrew poetry about God’s power in creation. God can speak an entire universe into being. Light itself arrives at the sound of God’s voice. The abundance of the world gets produces in a matter of days. We got from chaotic void to fully populated creation in less than a week – what a window into ultimate power.

Genesis 2-3 shifts the perspective entirely. Adam and Eve’s story in the Garden show God walking and talking with the first humans. God hears human desires and responds to human behavior. Rather than an aloof creator of a clockwork universe, we see an intimately involved divine parent mindful of the needs and behavior of their creation.

Out of this intimate care comes expectation and judgement. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’” (Genesis 2:15-17 NRSV) In its own way, this constitutes the original law. Long before the covenant with Abraham or the Ten Commandments, we had, “don’t eat from this specific tree.” Or, rather, “don’t place yourself into the role of God.” Regardless, it didn’t stand for long. Humanity broke it and suffered a judgement for it.

We don’t like judgement. We don’t like imagining God doling out punishments – even deserved ones. We like to think that judgement and a loving mindful God don’t align. God loves us. God wouldn’t punish us. Even as I write it, I hear how juvenile it sounds. In reality, that God cares about how we behave means that God desires a well-ordered world that allows us all to thrive. In this way, God’s judgement represents an aspect of God’s care for us rather than a rejection of us. Just as God carefully ordered the stars, set the sun and the moon in their place, structure nature in a sustainable way, and provided for the needs of humans, God also designed a life for humans that worked the same way. As beings with free will, We can follow those expectations or not. As a divine creator who desire the best of all of creation including us, God can and does push us to rise to the occasion.

In Lord of the Flies by William Golding, a group of young men get trapped alone an island and absolute bedlam ensues. They descend into a lawless society governed only by the ids of these children, and it leads to disastrous results. Something similar actually happened to a group of Tongan students in the 1960s. They got trapped on an island without adult supervision for 15 months. Rather than descend into lawlessness, they set rules and routines and kept to them. They came together, worked together, and survived together.

The Tongan students remind me of why God cares how we act, and why I want God to care about my behavior. At our best, we can live as God intends us to live – to live as those Tongan students lived – pulling together for the good of all and understanding our place in God’s world. God wants this for everyone, and when we get in the way of that, we should want to hear from God about how to fix what we are doing.