The Human Impact: Part 2
In Part 1 of this blog series on the Human Impact of COVID-19 (available here), we spent time examining the growing effect this global situation is having on the more ancillary components of our lives and as a result, society. I closed by challenging us to lean into the reality that much of the world is forever changed, encouraging us to see this change through the lens of the gospel. More than usual, with shelter-in-place orders being extended into May in Northwest Indiana (and the middle to end of May in other parts of the country), I recognize this is no easy task.
Today, I would like for us to consider the economy together, as it is people who create economic impact via their job, their spending, and their ability (or lack thereof) to do so. Why this subject? Because the people who make up the church are represented by a myriad of vocations. Very few industries, whether blue or white collar, are unaffected. Those involved in the business world are doing almost no traveling, opting instead for digital meetings from home.
On the other side of the economic coin, while contracted construction work is continuing, new contracts for construction have begun to slow in anticipation of a global recession. Additionally, the service industry has all but ground to a halt. Retail stores, restaurants and bars, hobby shops, and gyms are all closed; most have nothing beyond the tentative hope of a few more weeks, while some have permanently closed their doors. These realizations yield a number of ways for us as Christians to take an objective step back and consider two areas of human impact to weather this and future seasons well.
I want to note that much of what I am going to share below is not novel, as much as it is a matter of stewardship and prudence to mitigate the negative human impact. It is rare that the church speaks on these matters. But as these are unprecedented times, there must be an equal response. May God bless this and equip you to that end.
“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Proverbs 27:1 ESV)
If you have paid attention to global news, you may have noticed there is a lot of blame being cast in a variety of directions as to who is responsible for the state of economic decline right now. A generally agreed upon notion, though, is that in January of 2020, very few people were concerned about the United States economy. The economy of the last four years has been among the strongest in generations, and few expected that within mere weeks they would be looking at their industry being fundamentally altered.
Maybe that’s you. Maybe you are joining me in startling humility before Proverbs 27:1. Thus, it seems wise to think through how tremendous economic shift impacts us on the daily human level. If you have been laid off, are burning through vacation and sick time, or staring down the barrel of your industry changing or being entirely eliminated, please allow me to share a few things with you.
I want to lead with this: It is okay to be concerned! It is not sinful to be concerned right now. Yes, the Bible makes a number of statements like the following: “be anxious for nothing,” and “be angry, but don’t sin.” These are real instructions with real application for us. But to apply them correctly, one must understand their intended message. Let’s examine Ephesians 4:26 briefly. It says…
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…”
While the context of this verse is focused on anger, one could easily put any number of emotions in there. You could read this verse as saying: “be [insert emotion] and do not sin…” Specifically, “be concerned, anxious, or fearful and do not sin…” The Bible tells us we can feel these intense emotions of concern, as long as they do not cross the line into thought and action-dominating sin. I’ll briefly stop here, as I can hear some already, thinking: But Pastor Stephen, how could that be? Is the Bible contradicting itself? Context is key. Not all fear and anxiety is sinful. It can’t be. God would not have created humans with a part to us that could not be redeemed or profitable in some way. Fear and anxiety are bodily responses. They are designed to alert us to, or prepare us for, a looming threat (for more on the various types of correct or sinful anxiety, read this helpful article by The Gospel Coalition in the endnotes).1
To be concerned or anxious right now is a normal human response to this situation. And if we are being honest with ourselves—there is much to be concerned about right now. But, as with any emotion, the Christian should not be consumed by concern, worry, or fear. That is part of what distinguishes acceptable concern from sinful worry and fear. Additionally, our emotions should never be in the driver’s seat of our decision-making. What our emotions (associated with fear, worry, and concern) should do is motivate us to action.
Again, these responsive actions are not new, but they are practical, and reflective of the hard realities that may necessitate our application in light of economic shift.
Concern for our economic stability in the face of reduced hours, decreased output, layoffs, or business closure should motivate us to take a hard look at our budgets. This gives us the opportunity to replace some of our feelings of concern, worry, or fear with a measure of control again. Taking a hard look at how much income we have coming in, in conjunction with how much spending we are doing, helps us get our arms around the real-world impact of our lives. And while the reality of the numbers may be scary, it generates an opportunity to consider what necessary steps may need to be taken to create stability for our families. At the very least, it will prevent us from operating in ignorance and help us make wise choices about how each dollar is used.
It is likely that casual trips to the convenience store, our favorite coffee shop, or breakfast-restaurant will have to stop for a season. It would also be prudent to not splurge on any of our favorite things to have around the house and opt to only keep the necessities on hand to stretch out our budget as long as possible.
Eliminate unnecessary expenses. “Live” accounts for video game consoles, Netflix, Hulu, cable, Disney Plus, and other streaming services and entertainment media are blessings, not essentials. They are “nickel and dime” expenses that amount to monthly burdens that rest squarely on our shoulders. The more of these we have, the closer the concern and anxiety referenced above becomes sinful, simply because in having all of these (now) unnecessary expenses, we are not being good stewards of the resources we have.
Personal Response #2: Take a Hard Look at Your Assets
Ultimately, you know your assets. If you have them, as you read that list, you may not have seen yours. But you may have seen the assets you have at your disposal that could be repurposed or sold. These are very difficult considerations, and I do not offer them for your consideration lightly. Pointedly—I am aware of my own assets. I would be lying if I did not say that by even composing these thoughts, I felt a slight pang of tension that it may come to relinquishing possession(s) I truly enjoy. The idea sits unpleasantly in the pit of my stomach. Sacrificing things we have worked hard for is incredibly difficult and discouraging. Yet, if your assets can provide cushion, security, and prolong your quality of life, it is a good time to remember and practice the truth taught by Jesus in Matthew 6:19-21.
Friends, we must recognize that many industries are in the midst of a significant transition. Transition demands flexibility. It could be that for those who work at the mill, the demand for steel and other products will be lower moving forward. This is not unfathomable with the potential of the construction industry having a slow rebound. It could also be that if you are a pilot, you will find fewer people traveling, meaning fewer flights (and less work) moving forward, as many have transitioned to digital office environments making in-person meetings increasingly irrelevant. Or it could be that the place you were a personal trainer, waited tables, made coffee, sold clothing, or any number of other retail environments are simply not going to reopen. And even if they do, the likelihood of a significantly reduced staff in an effort to build back lost revenue will be a large, looming temptation for business owners. This is also saying nothing of the mandated social distancing that will be required, which will prevent a high number of employees from re-entering the workforce quickly.
As Christians, we are called to exercise wisdom. Wisdom involves preparedness. It is an unfortunate reality that many may have to prepare to accept that the human impact of this may likely include a vocation change, as their past job may not provide for them anymore.
As a matter of preparedness, it would be wise to consider industries that are on the rise. Below are a number of actively growing industries to consider investigating:
There are obviously others, but the big picture point is this: the world may be changing, but our human responsibilities are not. You cannot plan for the world to re-stabilize and things to go back to the way they were. In all projected probabilities, it will be months before we resume any semblance of the previous normal. Government bodies from local to national are all stating it will be a slow rollout, not a rapid re-emersion. So if you have a family to support, at least for now, some money is better than no money while the path forward is forged. Stimulus checks are only going to last for so long. Be diligent, humble, and proactive in taking care of yourself and your family.
As I shared in part one of this blog series, none of these human impact realities are easy to type. I have been emotional more than once while composing this, thinking of real people in my life that are struggling, concerned, and looking at significant life change in the months ahead. In those moments, I have turned to comfort from two places. First, obviously, Jesus. He is our refuge and strength; a very present help in this time of trouble (Psalm 46:1). But also in history. In God’s providence, humankind has survived depressions, world wars, and multiple economic concerns before. We will survive this one as well! However, I believe that to not just survive, but thrive, considering how you are affected by the above, and what your response will be, will position you to weather the COVID-19 season of life with the greatest poise and preparedness available to you.
|↑1||“Ask TGC: Is Anxiety a Sin?” https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/ask-tgc-anxiety-sin/|