“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever means they use, they all tend to this end.” (Blaise Pascal (below), Pensees).
This insight that desire, the pursuit of what is good, is common to all human beings is found not only in philosophers like Aristotle but great Christian thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas – and Pascal.
The surprise to many Christians, however, is that desire, far from being a wicked thing, is at the heart of real faith. So in a lecture entitled “The Weight of Glory”, CS Lewis famously said that true desire is directed towards God, who is goodness itself, and all desire is weak and false if expressed without reference to Him .
“If we consider the unblushing rewards and staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak…We are far too easily pleased.”
Love (as opposed to suffering) is after all one of the cardinal virtues according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, and joy (not misery) is the fruit of the Spirit.
Desiring God’s Word
Is it extreme, though, to talk not only about “loving God” but also “loving the Bible”? I’ve often heard passionate Christians express disapproval of those who “idolise the Bible” when they should be loving God. Is this, though, necessarily two different things?
Psalm 119 is beautifully constructed in 22 poetic stanzas, in which each line begins with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet (א, ב, ג, etc). This beautifully neat “A-Z in praise of God’s Word” makes us wonder at the Bible’s beauty. Then almost every line refers to (what we would call) the Bible – the law of the Lord, his statutes, his ways, his precepts, his decrees, his commands, his word (see verses 1-9).
“I delight in your decrees” he says in v16. “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches” (v14).
Is such love for the Bible really meant to be my experience, or was the Psalm writer a bit extreme? Is he a bit like a cricket nut who delights in knowing the most obscure laws of that eccentric sport?
No, we are meant to delight in the Bible, and we will be deeper people if we do. The hint of why this is true is in that word “your”. To delight in the Bible is not to worship the words of a mere man (which is foolish) or of a distant god (which is superstition) but to love the words of someone we personally love. Your Lord. To hear his Word is like playing a favourite piece of music again and again for the joy it brings me, or rehearsing the words of love spoken to me by a lover or parent.
The second hint is in verses like 77 which make God’s character and His Word equivalent to each other. “Let your compassion come to me that I may live; for your law is my delight” Likewise v.81 “My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word”. There is no separation between God’s Word and God’s person (as Aquinas identified). His Word comes as an expression of his thoughts. So I cannot love God without loving His Words. Similarly, to love His written Word is to love His incarnate Word (John 1) – His Son Jesus – and vice versa.
That is why to live by His Word is also to live under His personal guidance (“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path“, v.105) and His protection (“You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word”, v.114).
So the writer concludes, “Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I delight in them.” (v.129)
Dwelling in, and on, God’s Word
So here it is, the Bible: “true about me, true about people, true about the world, true about the future, true about the past, true about the good life, and true about God” (Kevin De Young, Taking God at His Word, p17), demanding obedience and delivering goodness. What should I do with it? As De Young summarises:
Sing it, speak it, study it, store it up , obey it, praise God for it, pray God would act according to it.
The following posts (which are edited from a longer series on the website of the church I pastor) will explore how and why the Bible is trustworthy, adequate, vital and accessible to us all in what it says. But, hard as they are to understand at some points, dry as personal Bible reading can be at times, let’s delight in the Scriptures too.