Skip to main content

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, Psalm 8 is a song of praise to God, the “creator of heaven and earth.” The psalm then goes on to list aspects of creation: the moon and stars, flocks and herds, wild animals, birds, and fish. These are clearly part of God’s creation, but creation is, in fact, everything that God has ordained to be. This includes all the latent possibilities in creation waiting to be unfolded: cultural developments like art, cuisine, fashion, architecture, agriculture, education, music, and yes, even technology and computers.

Psalm 8 continues in verses 3-8 to explore the place of humans in the creation. It begins by raising a paradox of sorts: first 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 goes on to state 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 tend and to keep the earth, to “fill the earth.” This notion of “filling the earth” does not just mean having lots of children, but it also includes unfolding all the possibilities in creation. This includes the many disciplines represented at Christian universities: art, music, literature, humanities, social sciences, mathematics, natural sciences, engineering, and computer science – all areas of creation in which we are called to exercise both freedom and responsibility.

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 can readily see how sin has perverted and misdirected software and computing, employing it in disobedient ways with malicious software, invading privacy, disregard for intellectual property, proliferation of e-waste, biased and unjust algorithms, and using social networks to spread misinformation, hate, and division. 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 savior 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 his death and resurrection all things are being redeemed and will one day be restored – including technology. In the words of former Calvin College prof 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 latent 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 “how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

This article is based on a message delivered at a (pre-COVID) Calvin College computer science chapel led by computer science students and faculty.

Derek C. Schuurman

Calvin University
Derek C. Schuurman is Professor of Computer Science at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI. He is author of Shaping a Digital World and co-author of A Christian Field Guide to Technology for Engineers and Designers (IVP Academic).