You'd kind of hope it might be true, but it's good to have it confirmed: Lockdown has seen an explosion in all sorts of activities, from learning languages to gardening, but it's also seen Christians reading the Bible more, and finding hope and comfort in it.
According to our recent survey, a significant number of Christians have reported that reading the Bible had led to an increased hope in God (42%); 28 per cent said it had increased their confidence in the future, while 63 per cent said that it had enabled their confidence to remain the same, rather than dipping.
Nearly a quarter of the 1,000 Christians we surveyed said that reading the Bible had also increased their mental wellbeing. And we discovered that since the pandemic hit, Christians are reading the Bible more often – 35 per cent of respondents overall, while among 25 to 34-year-olds that figure rises to more than half.
What is it in the Bible, or about the Bible, that makes people more confident, mentally healthier and more hopeful? After all, the Bible is a very varied book – and some of it isn't exactly cheerful.
I want to suggest three things. First, there's a lot in the Bible that transfers straight across into our situation today. If people are worried about catching Covid-19, or losing their jobs, or they're frustrated and sad about not being able to see their families, Jesus' words "Do not be worried and upset ... Believe in God and believe also in me" (John 14:1, GNB) speak straight to their hearts. Right now, all of us need to hear the Bible say: "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33.27).
Second, though: maybe what's really striking home to people and bringing them back to the Bible isn't the traditionally comforting bits of it. The Bible is a mixed bag. Yes, it's full of gloriously uplifting psalms and inspirational teaching. But it also has violence and horror. The psalmists and the prophets spend as much time lamenting as they do rejoicing; rather more, in fact. Job and Lamentations are long cries of pain. Ecclesiastes is an elegant expression of sheer bewilderment at the world. Perhaps one of the things Christians have rediscovered during the pandemic is that the Bible has the language we need to express what we're feeling when the world doesn't make sense any more, and the props that usually hold us up have been kicked away. "I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God" (Psalm 69.3). Yes; we've been there. We need to know it's alright to grieve, to complain and to lament.
The Bible has the language we need to express what we're feeling when the world doesn't make sense
But third: verses of whatever kind might not in the long term be as significant to us as being able to locate ourselves in God's big story. The Bible is full of stories, but it's one story too. It begins in a garden, and ends in a garden city. The drama of scripture takes in creation, fall, Israel, Christ, the Church and the new creation – and we're all part of that story. The act of reading the Bible in faith makes us part of something bigger. We understand at some deep level that our lives have meaning and that God is for us – those everlasting arms again. Jesus is risen. We might not understand all that tumultuous imagery in Revelation, but we still get the message – in the end, we win.
Perhaps, then, it's not surprising that we're turning to the Bible more. What better book could there be, for such a time as this?
Mark Woods is Bible Society's Editor. For more about the big picture of God's story, see The Bible Course