I started a new read-through-the Bible plan in January, back when 2020 held the promise of being a better, more productive year than 2019. When I discovered on January 3, after three days’ worth of reading, that the plan didn’t technically start until January 6, I was delighted at being ahead of the game. Things were already looking good for the new year.
Of course I had no idea back then how important this slow slog through the whole of Scripture would be in anchoring me throughout these treacherous days of COVID-19 and sheltering in place. It’s been both easier and harder to make another pass through the Bible when I wake up each morning, wondering what else might be taken away from us, who else might have been diagnosed, and when we might finally be allowed a sense of normal again.
Despite my usual attempts to consult God’s Word first thing, before the latest installment of headlines and emails, lately I seem to be drawn initially to the hard news of the day. It’s an allowance I’ve made temporarily as my mind, body, and spirit try to adapt to an endless cycle of disease, death, and distancing. But after I check the daily death counts and read the latest COVID-19 updates, I still come back to the Bible—the only book I’ve pored over consistently for close to four decades.
This daily practice has seen me through teenage angst, young adult optimism, decades of singleness, years of cancer treatment, late-in-life marriage and step-parenting, and recently, caregiving for my mom after her stroke. And now, in the midst of a global pandemic, when life has been disrupted at almost every level, this same daily practice has been one of the few normalizing—and comforting—activities I’ve engaged in.
I’ll admit, however, that it’s not always easy to pull out the folded paper from my Bible and find my place in Numbers, Deuteronomy, or even Judges. These aren’t the readings I would normally choose in times like these. But in the miraculous way that God’s Word is alive and active, even obscure Old Testament passages have given me inexplicable hope as I see the way God reaches out to His people in different times, amid other plagues and tragedies.
Back in early March, when my state reported its first COVID-19 case and the reality of the virus’s reach here in the United States was first sinking in, I happened to be reading through the first half of Numbers. As God led the people out of the Sinai Wilderness toward the land He’d promised them, the spies offered their analysis of the riches and dangers ahead. That led me to wonder what report I would offer of the coming days, weeks, or months, filled with their own giant-sized obstacles: Mom’s nursing home was closing to visitors; the boys would start eLearning on Monday; and my husband’s company sent everyone home to work remotely. Would I join voices with the 10 spies who said, “The land we explored devours those living in it” (Numbers 13:32 NIV)? Or would I be like Joshua and Caleb, who, filled with faith, said, “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us” (Numbers 14:8 NIV).
BOOK OF REMEMBERING
Days passed, and as our new normal began to settle in, I found myself in the book of Deuteronomy. I refer to it as the book of remembering, partly because much of what we find in this fifth book of the Pentateuch has already been included in an earlier one: the desert wanderings, the battles and conquests, even the Ten Commandments. All repeated. But God doesn’t include a review just so we can get our facts straight; He wants us to get our faith straight. And remembering is an important part of that.
Even as I was revisiting the ancient stories of God’s people, I read over and over again in Deuteronomy how the Lord instructed Israel to rehearse the past, too. The word remember is used at least 15 times, more than in almost any other book of the Bible. God called on Israel to remember how He’d redeemed them from Egypt, how He’d fed them and cared for them in the wilderness, and how He’d held them accountable for sin. With uncertainty all around them as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, God knew that for them to continue following Him in the present and into the future, they needed a reminder of His faithfulness to them in the past.
I needed a reminder, too. Threats were coming from every side: possible job furloughs, rapid community spread of COVID-19 in our state, my mom’s newly developed fever, our teenage sons’ frustration over being kept from friends, our oldest son living far from home and facing a possible job furlough, too. Fear turned to doubt, and doubt turned to despair. Where is God? Who will take care of us? Why is this happening?
But as Israel was reminded of God’s past care, I was as well. I’ve been lonely and sick and out of work before. I’ve known what it’s like to have a disease press in on me and my loved ones before. And God has always provided. Not necessarily in the ways I expected, but always in the ways I needed. God would be faithful again.
Going through the Bible this time—during a historic global pandemic very few of us thought possible—has turned my attention toward truths I might otherwise have overlooked. When I read that large groups died during battles, plagues, or even hail (Joshua 10:11), I thought about families and communities (including nursing homes) around the country that are losing people they cherish, within days or sometimes hours of each other. When I scanned through the biblical genealogies, I thought of the many obituaries I read now with lists of relatives and friends, representing both beloved and complicated relationships.
More recently, as I read through the book of Judges, I wondered how long this solidarity of uncertainty will last, or whether we’ll soon become a world where “everyone [does] what is right in his own eyes” again (Judges 21:25). And as the book of Ruth popped up on my folded paper this week, that one haunting line at the end of chapter 1—“And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest” (Judges 21:22) —left me wondering how many stories we’ll tell in the future that include “and it happened to be during a global pandemic.”
I’ve been reminded, again and again, that no detail is outside the watchful eye of God.
LIGHT FOR THE PATH AHEAD
What about you? Are you distracted and distressed, anxious to hear from God in a season of unprecedented uncertainty? Let the Bible be a lamp for your feet and light for your path (Psalm 119:105).
Do you already have a habit of Bible reading? Stick close to what you’ve always done. The regular disciplines of our faith can ground us when so many other aspects of life are in flux.
Are you new to Bible reading? Now is a perfect time to start hearing God’s message of encouragement, endurance, and hope (Romans 15:4).
When you feel particularly discouraged or need instruction for how to pray, use a concordance or search online to find specific Scripture verses that meet the need of the moment. But don’t be afraid to dive into a guided reading plan—like the through-the-Bible resource I’ve been using—to see how God might speak to you from unexpected places in His Word.
It’s the way I’ve been approaching my own time in God’s Word during the COVID-19 pandemic. When I most need comfort, I return to familiar passages of peace and hope. When I don’t have a Bible with me, verses memorized long ago run through my thoughts, providing the calm I need right then.
I’m thankful for the ways God has ministered to me through all of the Bible—through unlikely stories and even (maybe especially) the chapters and verses I typically skip over.
Truly, as it says in 2 Samuel 22:31, “The word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (ESV). I hope you’ll join me there in meeting Him.
Originally published at InTouch Ministries on April 24, 2020. Artwork by Jonathan Todryk.