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?
Grammatically, it seems to me to lack a linking phrase that says why the initial observation leads to the subsequent question. The reader is left to infer the connection.
It might mean, "When I look up at all the stars that you made, it is so unbelievably big that it makes me feel small, so I wonder, what are we people worth to you?"
Or maybe, "When I look out into space, it seems so infinite compared to my finite experience, it makes me wonder how I could possibly matter at all."
Or it could be, "When I think about all of the beauty that you created, then realize how plain I am, how do I possibly compare to that?"
Or even, "The universes you created are unimaginably complex, and I am so simple by comparison, you must not think much of me."
But I think the best way to read it is just to leave the pause in there and just let our minds wander over it for a few moments before we go on: "God, when I think about the immensity of all you have made, every single star in the cosmos ... (pause) ... what are we to deserve your attention at all, let alone your love?"
It is a staggering claim, isn't it? To say that the One who created all that is has a particular concern for you and me is audacious! Maybe even impudent? And yet that is precisely the claim this Psalm makes. Not only that God pays attention to human beings, but it goes on to say that God elevates human beings to a kind of "favored creature status" by giving us the rest of creation to care for.
My prayer yesterday was, "Are you sure that's such a good idea, Lord?" I mean, we don't do so well at taking care of things given to us sometimes. If we need a power line there, it doesn't matter that a tree is growing in the same space, just cut apart the tree and make room for the power line. If we need a development there, it doesn't matter if there is a hill in the way, just flatten the hill to level the ground for the development. If we need more parking there, it doesn't matter that there is a beautiful green space in the way, just pave it over so we can cram more cars in.
Humanity's callousness with the environment lends even deeper incredulity to Psalm 8. "What are human beings, that you are mindful of us?" Truth be told, we're not all that great. I know that there are those who will minimize humanity's impact on the earth, and they have a retinue of scientists to quote that back up that viewpoint, just like there's a whole slew of scientists saying the opposite. But simple observational common sense goes a long way in this particular conversation. We simply don't do a good job of caring for the natural world a lot of the time.
It starts with looking. "When I look at ..." When was the last time you did that? When was the last time you just sat and looked at a tree, the stars, another person, birds at a bird bath, or something else in God's wonderful world? To look with no agenda other than observation is to begin understanding the pause in the middle of Psalm 8.
When I look ... What am I?