By Don Mackintosh
For many in 2020, fear replaced holiday cheer.
Politicians, news networks and the scientific community continue to be laser focused (rightly so) on disease and the risk or reality of death. As a result people are turning to the Word of God in unprecedented numbers. Their priorities have shifted as they realize the insufficiency of humanity in dealing with present and especially ultimate realities.
A popular smart phone application, YouVersion Bible, reports an 80% increase in searches, totaling nearly 600 million, in 2020 over 2019.
What have people been searching for on You Version during 2020?
The number 1 search – What does the Bible say about fear and how to handle it?
On that score, the most read and bookmarked verse on You Version was Isaiah 41:10:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Bible Gateway, another application and computer destination, has seen questions about “God taking away sickness”, with 90 times more queries than before the pandemic hit. Searches concerning what the Bible says about racism, justice, and oppression were up 100 times more the week following George Floyd’s death. Searches concerning what the Bible says about government authority up 50 times more on election day.
John 3:16 and Jeremiah 29:11 still topped the searches on the Bible Gateway App, but moving to number three was the following:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14.
During this time of fear, people are reprioritizing, they are turning not to politicians, pundits or even physicians, helpful as these groups may be. They are turning to God’s Word.
What happens when we turn to God’s Word?
According to a new study done by the American Bible Society with assistance from Harvard University, it was discovered that: People who frequently read the Bible rate themselves 33 points more hopeful than irregular Scripture readers. In fact, the more frequently the better!
Here’s how Christianity Today (COVID-19 Hurts. But the Bible Brings Hope) summarized the findings:
“On a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the most hopeful, Americans who report reading the Bible three or four times per year scored 42; people who read monthly scored 59; weekly, 66; and multiple times per week, 75.”
Couple Bible reading with the community and discipleship found in church attendance, and hope, and a sense of well-being and happiness increase even more.
In summary, people who attend church and read their Bibles are happier, less likely to die by suicide and have a greater sense of purpose in their lives. Sadly, though engagement with Scripture often peaks after times of trauma, it often falls off soon after. In fact the 1918 pandemic was followed by “the roaring 20’s” at time of excess and licentiousness.
The upside is, “the evidence shows that Americans who actively engage with the Bible and in corporate worship score higher on every measure of human flourishing, including better mental and physical health and a deeper sense of character and virtue. They even have a greater sense of financial and material stability compared to those who don’t attend church or engage with the Bible.”
The bottom line:
While precautions should certainly be taken to lessen risk of infection and physical death (hand washing, distancing etc) from Covid 19, so also should priority be given to unwrapping the gift of Scripture and the healing that can only be found in focusing on it’s contents personally, and corporately.
So let us, in this time of pandemic fear, unwrap – and keep unwrapping – the gift of Biblical hope and cheer.
Don Mackintosh is the spiritual counselor and instructor for the Beautiful Minds Wellness intensive outpatient program. He is the chair of religion, director of HEALTH, and campus chaplain at Weimar Institute. He also teaches the e-course, Spirituality and Mental Health.