Have you been stockpiling?

With all the uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic many Singaporeans rushed to supermarkets to stock up on daily necessities or what were perceived to be necessities. I confess that my wife and I were also “stalking” our phones for available RedMart delivery slots. I thought I’d take a step back and see if the Bible had anything to say about stockpiling.

Principle 1: Caring for ourselves and our families is legitimate and non-negotiable

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Tim. 5:8 NIV)

I truly believe that much of the motivation behind rushing to the supermarkets stems from the honorable desire of responsible people who want to make sure that their loved ones are provided for. This posture of love and responsibility is one that is God-ordained, which no one should belittle. But there are other issues involved.  

Principle 2: Don’t act from a position of fear — it’s not how God wants us to live

When the Israelites were wandering in the desert and crying out to God in their hunger, God fed them with manna from heaven (Exodus 16). Aside from its distinctive taste, the other definitive quality of manna was that if anyone took more than was needed, and kept it overnight, it would become foul the next morning (Exodus 16:20). This was to teach them to trust in God’s provision. Jesus continued God’s message of the futility of fear and worry.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life. (Matt. 6:25–27 NIV)

Lynne Twist, who had dedicated her life to eliminating world hunger, spoke about how our search for “abundance” is actually fed by a lingering belief in scarcity. If we are afraid there is not enough for us, we will tend to grab for more than we need. Thus, the fear of not having enough often blinds us to the abundance that we already possess. (Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives. [New York, NY: Penguin Random House, 2000], 201.) Singapore was ranked No. 1 on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index for two years running in 2018 and 2019. Should we be living in fear of scarcity in a nation like ours? Shouldn’t Christians in Singapore have every reason to trust in God’s faithful provision?

Principle 3: God expects us to care for the poor and vulnerable

Throughout the Bible, we see texts like Psalms 146:7–9; 68:4–5 which identify God as the protector and champion of the poor and vulnerable. And often God’s way of achieving this is through His people (Zechariah 7:10–11). In fact, this behaviour is closely related to the concept of living a righteous life. Francis I. Anderson points out in his commentary that Job 31:13–28 is one of the most important texts in Scripture for the study of Israelite ethics: “It is a complete picture of how a righteous Israelite was supposed to live, and to [Job], right conduct is almost entirely social. . . . In Job’s conscience . . . to omit to do good to any fellow human being, of whatever rank or class, would be a grievous offence to God.” (Francis I. Anderson, Job: Tyndale Old Testament Commentary [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975], 231.)

If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me?… if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or a needy man without a garment, and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep … then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint. . . . these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high. (Job 31:13–28 NIV)

The same concept was echoed by Jesus in His parable of the sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31–46) where the implication seems to be that our attitude toward the poor and vulnerable reveals our true attitude toward Christ. When I stockpile, what impact does it have on the poor?

I worked as a social worker for about four years after graduation and my “worldview bubble” was immediately burst in my initial days on the job. I never realised how many poor and vulnerable existed in our affluent society — people who were literally living from hand to mouth, who could only afford to buy food supplies on a daily basis because they worked odd jobs and, in addition to having no savings, were also heavily in debt. I remember we used to provide rations to those who had no food for their families while they waited for a possible job or for social assistance. It is hard to describe the feelings of a young middle-class fresh graduate who had never known a day of hunger when he saw a mother receive a bag of rice, instant noodles and canned food with tears in her eyes because she knew she would not have to disappoint her hungry children for the next few days.

Then I reflected upon the current situation we see in the supermarkets, where those of us with financial means (many who may be Christians) raid the shelves so that we feel assured for the coming weeks or months. And I visualise the poor and vulnerable among us walking into the same supermarkets with their day’s wages to empty shelves or increased prices due to heightened demand. I wonder how God will view this unintended consequence of our instinct for self-preservation — one that stems from fear and a disregard for the poor.    
So, how then should we approach the issue of stockpiling in this uncertain period? Yes, we need to provide for our families and ourselves. Often it is a tough call, but we mustn't be driven by a fear that may end up with our doing the exact opposite of what God expects us to do.

* Wei-Hao is an MDiv student at the Biblical Graduate School of Theology (BGST) and a Graceworks associate. He is currently collaborating with Graceworks for a research project on Millennial Christians in Singapore.