The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man.
This verse has been on my mind for a good while. It contains a very important truth. The theology it expresses it very close to that in Psalm 8: 5,6:
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet…
The kingship of humans over creation is a neglected doctrine. It finds its root in the Genesis narratives where humanity is created as the image of God to steward the very good creation. As the image of God, humans are to exercise a kingship of harmonious care, not a kingship of exploitation.
There are many places you can take this truth, but one that has impressed itself on me is in the area of theodicy – why do bad things happen? Psalm 115:16 helps us with the age old conundrum of how to balance God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Yes, God is sovereign (the highest heavens belong to him), but responsibility for the earth has been devolved to humanity. This helps us to understand the effect of the Fall itself and why human sin is portrayed as having an environmental effect. It also helps us to answer the question often asked by those wanting to impugn God for the way the world is: if God is all powerful why didn’t he stop X? Where X is something bad, ranging from personal illness, through to war or even a natural disaster. God could stop X, but perhaps doesn’t because ‘the earth he has given to man.’ This is obviously helpful when it comes war, but even in the realm of personal difficulties it helps us to understand that the world is the way it is because of humanity’s disconnection from the Creator through its rebellion. Humans must live within the human story with all of its consequences.
One more thing: this is not the same as seeing God as an absentee landlord, a God who is ‘watching us from a distance.’ God’s involvement with his creation is specific, unceasing and permeates all of reality. But the Creator works within the paradigm of order expressed in Psalm 115:16. Which is why in order to put the world right, He became a man.