Friday’s Column: Brent’s Biblical Bytes
Panic buying was in the news again following the Colonial Pipeline hack. People fearing a gasoline supply interruption bought up all the gasoline in many stations throughout the southeast and mid-Atlantic. You might also recall the panic buying of 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic inexplicably caused people to panic-buy toilet paper and paper towels. Why do people engage in this type of behavior? In a word, it is anxiety. Dr. Shahram Heshmat provides seven reasons people choose panic buying as the balm for uncertainty. I would like for us to consider those reasons in addition to the proper, Biblical response.
- Emotions trump logic. People know they don’t need 100 rolls of toilet paper, but driven by fears of a possible shortage, their emotions convince them they would be “safer” buying enough to fill a shopping cart while it is available. Though we equate sobriety with abstention from intoxicants, it also highlights a watchful frame of mind. Paul counseled the brethren of Thessalonica to avoid spiritual stupor by remaining vigilant and sober (1 Thessalonians 5.6). Even if I know that there might be an upcoming shortage, my trust in God should prompt me to act rationally regarding the needs of others who likewise need to secure provisions for their own. Hence, all of us can get by with our typical toilet paper purchases.
- Fearful expectation. I anticipate the worst and become fearful before having a cause. Could it be that there will be a shortage of goods? Perhaps. If my compatriots and I hastily grab all of the items from a store’s shelf, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Jesus told us to pray for our daily bread. Then, after reminding us of Providence, Jesus concluded this section of the Sermon on the Mount by saying: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6.34 NASB1995). In other words, Jesus says to take things a day at a time. Tomorrow has its own set of concerns, and we can only deal with what is in front of us.
- & 4. The contagion of fear and herd mentality. Dr. Heshmat lists these as two of his seven reasons. The entwining of these ideas is such I will consider them together. Fear spreads like a virus. People sense fear in a group, believe there is justification for it, and follow the cues of others. God knew this about us when giving Moses instruction: “You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice” (Exodus 23.2 NASB1995). It doesn’t matter if “everyone is doing it” because we will give an accounting of ourselves before God (Romans 14.12). The incident of the Golden Calf illustrates how easy it is for us to get caught up in groupthink (cf. Exodus 32.1ff).
- & 6. Inability to deal with uncertainty and the desire to be in control. Once again, Dr. Heshmat deals with these separately, but I think they are related. Some people find it harder to deal with the unknown. Do you know someone who keeps watching the news or checking social media about a current event? Does it not seem to fuel their anxiety? Such a person likely keeps an eye open for which gas station has fuel or store has toilet paper. He convinces himself he is on top of things by swiftly grabbing up supply as it becomes available. But man is not in control due to the uncertainty of life (cf. James 4.13-15). There are things that we cannot know (Deuteronomy 29.29). We do best to trust the One Who will supply all our needs (Philippians 4.19).
- Misinformation. Dr. Heshmat explained how social media spread the misinformation about the toilet paper shortage. People in Japan thought there would be a toilet paper shortage because of what they had seen on social media. Given that we had a mad dash to buy toilet paper in the United States, it is apparent that the online rumors crossed the Pacific. The spread of false information is undoubtedly a hazard to having an interconnected world. It is interesting to note how Paul connects gossip (or being a busybody) to idleness. Paul tells Timothy that the church should not financially support young widows since their inactivity might encourage gossip (1 Timothy 5.11-15). Paul said that their undisciplined life led some in Thessalonica to act as busybodies (2 Thessalonians 3.11). In regards to such Thessalonians, Paul famously reminded that those unwilling to work should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3.10). Hence, if we enough time on our hands to entertain rumors, we may well be neglecting our Christian duty elsewhere.
Panic buying is a peculiar problem of modern man. However, it ultimately stems from anxiety, a commodity of which Christians are to be in short supply. Not only did Jesus tell us not to worry (Matthew 6.25ff), but Paul reminds us that prayer brings incomprehensible peace (Philippians 4.6-7). Let us avail ourselves of the precious promises of our Lord and cast our anxiety upon Him (1 Peter 5.7).
Heshmat, Shahram. “7 Reasons for Panic-Buying Behavior.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 22 Mar. 2020, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/202003/7-reasons-panic-buying-behavior.