Back in 1999, there was growing concern over what might happen when the year ticked over to 2000. Because of the way that computer systems around the world abbreviated dates, there was a possibility that programs—particularly older ones—would not properly compute that year “00” would be a later date than year “99.” Calling it the “Y2K Bug,” the media stoked fears that the world could descend into chaos if computer systems failed on January 1, 2000.
The concern about computer systems was a valid one that did require remediation by computer professionals. But I was stunned by the preparations I saw people making: stocking up months’ worth of canned goods, paper goods, and bottled water; buying complicated water filtration systems; even planning to move to remote compounds if they woke up on January 1st to a drastically different world.
My husband was then working in the computer industry, and he was not concerned about the turning of the year. So I didn’t bother stocking up past what I usually keep in my pantry, although on December 31st I did realize that over the past several weeks I had accidentally purchased six boxes of fabric softener sheets!
I was reminded of this panic recently, as many stores in the United States have experienced shortages because of people “panic buying” canned goods, paper goods, sanitizing products, and bottled water. Of course, with most states telling people to stay home, some amount of stocking up made sense. But the stories of store employees and customers made it clear that many people made purchases far exceeding what they could use in several months of staying at home. Some went even further, buying large amounts of high-demand supplies and then selling them online for exorbitant prices, before marketplaces responded to the price gouging by shutting them down. Now, some have supplies that are in high demand, but which they are unable to sell and others are unable to buy.
The common denominators in these situations are fear and self-concern. People see a scary situation and they respond in the most natural way possible: they seek to take care of themselves. Whether it’s stockpiling canned goods, filling a cart with toilet paper or reselling hand sanitizer for 20 times its usual value, we see people responding to the fear that there won’t be enough to go around, so they had better get as much as they possibly can—while they can. In turn, others start to see empty shelves and high prices and they get worried: if items are in short supply, it must really be necessary to stockpile them! The result is an increase in shortages and a decrease in concern for one another.
How should a Christian respond? It isn’t difficult to see that we shouldn’t try to amass profits in the face of others’ fear and worry. But we are called to do more than simply refrain from taking advantage of others. As Proverbs 11:24 reminds us, “There is one who scatters, yet increases more; And there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty.” We are called to be those who scatter, not those who withhold. How can we do this?
The key is to remember on whom we rely for our sustenance. If we have the mindset that we alone are responsible for our wellbeing, we will fall into the same kind of thinking that empties grocery shelves and fills our homes with things we don’t really need. But we know from the Bible that we are to rely on God for our daily bread (and the other things necessary for daily living). While it does not show a lack of faith to make provisions for the future (Proverbs 6:6-8), we are to use our resources wisely and are told that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Paul follows that statement by writing that “…God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
This passage makes it clear that God gives to us so that we have plenty to give to others. Instead of letting fear push us into hoarding supplies, we are called to remember God’s blessings to us, and to remember that He has provided for us so that we can provide for others. And David reminds us in Psalm 41:1-2 that God will take care of those who take care of the poor and needy.
Instead of letting empty shelves and the fear of what is happening around us turn our thoughts to only our own needs, let’s choose to focus on what God has given us. What do we have that we could share with others? What could we do without so that someone else could be taken care of? How can we use times of fear and worry to serve others and comfort them? Let’s take every opportunity to consider how God might use us to provide for someone else!