If we survey the entirety of worldwide literature, we find few books like the Bible. Yes, there are many great literary masterpieces, many complex tomes of philosophy, but few books have had as lasting impact on the history of civilization than the Bible. And there’s a good reason: the Bible is the only book that reads us. Yes, other books offer wisdom and insight into the human condition, but only the Bible has a unique way of penetrating the human soul. It’s no wonder that the writer of Hebrews described the Bible as something “living and active…piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
As we read Psalm 119 together, what are some of the ways that the psalmist describes the effects of scripture on the human heart? In his commentary on psalms, Derek Kidner suggests that three distinct experiences emerge:
We see this first described in verses 14 and 16:
In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. (Psalm 119:14)
I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:16)
Yet this quality emerges throughout the psalm (cf. vv 24, 47, 70, 77, 92, 143, 162, 174). The psalm’s tone is one of scholarly pursuit, yet it is simultaneously more. Every word is deeply personal, and echoes a devotion and relational quality not found ascribed to other forms of literature.
The love of the psalmist runs deeper than the text itself: the love is a devotion not to the Words but to the Speaker—God. This is why the psalmist can write that the words are “sweeter than honey” (103), and make him “pant” (131) (cf. 47, 48, 97, 113, 119, 127, 132, 140, 159, 163, 165, 167).
God’s Word makes the psalmist “stand in awe” (161)—but he also says that “the fear of you makes my flesh creep” (120). Related to this is the fact that God is righteous (7, 75, 123, 138, 144. 172), dependable (43, 142), and as unshakeable as heaven and earth (89-91). Scripture itself reflects this character, meaning that it is inexhaustible (18, 27, 129).
Today’s world has come to drive a wedge between truth and personal experience. For instance, in the last century Ludwig Wittgenstein observed that human language is inadequate to describe the taste and aroma of coffee. Therefore, how can language ever capture the nature of God? Now, in a very real sense, this is true. I remember sharing this while speaking at an event a few years ago—and one of the audience members raised his cup in the air to voice a hearty Amen. It’s true, isn’t it? If a picture is worth a thousand words, then experience is infinitely greater. But even if language proves inadequate to describe the nature of coffee, it remains adequate for giving you directions to Starbucks. Similarly, human language may be equally adequate for pointing people to God, that they can “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Doctrine can never replace experience, but it categorizes it, offers it a framework so that we can better understand and navigate the world around us.