A Catholic reads the Bible, Week 12: God's promises

In the Book of Joshua, the Hebrews finally reach the Promised Land, and start dividing it among the tribes.

Laura Bernardini is director of coverage in CNN's Washington Bureau. The views expressed in this column belong to Bernardini.

Laura Bernardini

(CNN)This is week 12 of an ongoing series: A Catholic Reads the Bible. Read Week One, Week Two and Week Three.

To this day, I still have those college-related anxiety dreams. You know the ones: You didn't study for a big exam or skipped classes all semester and didn't realize there was a big project due.
I graduated from the University of Vermont 20 years ago, you would think that these would have subsided by now.
    But reading through the Book of Joshua this week, those dreams came rushing back. I read through the whole book and couldn't figure out why I should care about how the Promised Land was divided among the tribes.
    Why do I care who gets what between the tribes of Judah and Reuben? Simeon? Joseph? Caleb?
    As the lists of the cities in Israel ticked by page after page, why was this level of detail being revealed to me?
    With writer's block and panic welling up inside of me, I grabbed a lifeline: a biblical geography scholar.
    Enter Joel Baden, a professor of the Hebrew Bible at Yale Divinity School.
    As Baden explained, the answer to my question about the tribes and the land was right in front of my face, in the very text that mystified me. And it's time to confess: After our conversation, I officially felt like an idiot.
    In the Book of Joshua, Baden epxlained, God is fulfilling the promise he made in Genesis. God told the Hebrew slaves in Egypt that they be freed and find their Promised Land. The Book of Joshua recounts how God held up his end of the deal.
    As we talked, Baden told me more about the significance of God's promises. I was reminded (again) not to view this holy and ancient covenant through a modern lens. The Israelites spent years wandering the desert. Many likely lost hope. But God works on God's time, and eventually, God came through, leading his people across the desert and into the Promised Land.
    I didn't learn any of this during my 12 years of Catholic school. Now it feels like a whole level of understanding is being revealed. But that's what this column is all about, right? A lifelong Catholic approaching the Good Book, not in sermon snippets or Sunday school lessons, but the whole thing -- warts and rules and boring passages and all. It feels, in many ways, like the journey of a lifetime.
      On a sadder note, every time I picked up the Bible this week, I couldn't keep my mind off the horrific killing of nine Christians at a Bible study group in Charleston, South Carolina. It was a community like those I wrote about last week: one that tries to understand God's word together.
      As spiritual leaders told me last week, a community is the best way to try to comprehend life's beautiful and bitter mysteries. The fact that they had welcomed a stranger into their circle, and he had senselessly slaughtered them, grieves me deeply. I will think of them often as a continue this journey through the Bible.