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Providence in the Pandemic

Drawing parallels between current and historical events is precarious. But if today's pandemic evokes the plagues of Egypt, the hardness of heart that inflicted Pharaoh is clearly still contagious. In some supermarkets, for instance, customers have deliberately coughed in the faces of hard-pressed staff and refused to keep a safe distance from other shoppers.

Others have emulated behaviours depicted a few chapters later in the Exodus story. When God provides the Israelites with manna in the wilderness, some ignore God's instructions and gather more than they need. The result is that the next morning it's full of maggots.

Recent hoarding like this has been leaving needy people deprived. Supplies have been plentiful, but they've been stacked behind walls of fear erected by those who have more than enough.

Thankfully, many people and organizations have sought to serve the needy by emulating virtues lauded by the Israelite singer-songwriter David: contentment and trust. No stranger to danger and deprivation, he wrote that because the Lord was like a shepherd, he would lack nothing.

Providing such service safely is facilitated largely by electronic means of communication, through which no virus can be transmitted. It also helps that homes today, from where many of us are now compelled to work, are better supplied with light, heat, power, refrigeration, water, and sanitation than at any other time in history.

These things – food, supplies, technology, and utilities – are at our disposal for such a time as this due to the providence of God. That providence, which lay behind the daily supply of manna, has been expressed throughout history in human creativity and ingenuity, made productive and profitable through business. It is also expressed, with so many companies now in freefall, through state attempts to secure jobs.

In this passage, peace is not about the burying of weapons ('swords'). It is about repurposing them into agricultural equipment ('ploughshares') that will increase the productivity of the food industry and allow people to enjoy rewards from their labour. Its picture of people sitting under 'their own vines and under their own fig trees' provides a magnificent metaphor for the true vocation of work: to satisfy human needs through the employment of human gifts.

Recognizing such providence for what it really is – God at work through human work – can have transformative power, replacing a scarcity mentality with one of abundance. Manufacturers of cars and vacuum cleaners producing ventilators, and major multinationals assigning vast resources to assist struggling healthcare services and small businesses, are just two examples of what can happen when an abundance mindset goes viral.

None of this downplays the hardship faced by many individuals, companies, and communities. But future historians could look back on this period as a time when society came together to address such hardship with the innovation and resourcefulness needed to serve the common good.

Peter Heslam

hardness of heart is contagious

transformation happens when an abundance mindset goes viral