Have you heard? There was a run on Costco over the weekend! When on Sunday afternoon, my son Ethan ran to Costco for something and came back saying, “Man, Costco was packed”, I didn’t think much about it. While a bit of an unusual situation outside the holiday season, I simply dismissed it as an aberration. Until I read the news this morning.
Turns out, that all across America, Costco stores saw record business for a non-holiday weekend. Some locations even said the busyness surpassed the holiday rush. In an article from the L.A. Times, Ruben Vives, Emily Baumgaertner, and Alex Wigglesworth (what a name, right?), wrote: “If you noticed your local Costco was more crowded than normal this weekend, it probably wasn’t your imagination.” The story goes on to cite the growing fear of the coronavirus as the motivation for such commerce. Big crowds were vying in some locations for prime “survival” goods such as antiseptic wipes and Clorox disinfecting wipes which cannot be kept stocked. Water, paper goods, grains such as rice and pasta, jarred food and peanut butter flew off the shelves. In Hawaii, Costco was doing a banner business day after state health officials urged residents to “stock up on all prescription medications and other basic household items like food and cleaning products so you can care for yourself and your family at home if someone becomes ill. Supplies of these items may be affected in the event of a pandemic.” There is nothing quite like having state officials use the word “pandemic” to create a “panic” among Costco shoppers. Mind you, Costco is the store where “bulk” is king. There is no such thing as a product sold in the store that is packaged in single servings or close to “normal grocery store” portions. Good night, have you seen the size of the Hidden Valley ranch dressing? Hugh! And they are packaged in two bottle packaging! I’m half convinced that “real” Costco shoppers have added a “wing” on their home just to store the items necessary to see them through the next pandemic.
But really, how can it be otherwise? With over-hyped media buzz and fear inducing headlines, one would think that “Armageddon” had arrived. Added to this is the social media craze with instant communication of the latest unsubstantiated rumor to unlimited numbers of people. Then, on top of that, you have the “politicization” of the coronavirus; is it the fault of the Republicans or the Democrats? If your opponent urges calm, they are deniers. If they urge panic, they are irresponsible. The virus has been politicized to serve specific political ends. Imagine…that politicians would do that (he said with a sarcastic smirk on his face).
We’ve been here before. From “SARS” to “Ebola”, to Y2k, we have succumbed to irrational fears and fantastic headlines. Did you know that when I was in junior high, we were going to run out of oil and gas by somewhere around 1980? We’ve done this environmentally too. From the coming ice age (predicted in the seventies) that would wipe us out, to the ticking time bomb of over-population, to the panic over the changing climate we have become a people of anxiety, fretting, and fearfulness. This has only increased as the explosion of news outlets vying for audiences has increased. Salacious headlines and news stories drive viewership and viewership drives revenue. For instance, local new agencies “hype” the next “winter storm” of a predicted 3 inches sending the population scurrying to the grocery store to make sure we can survive the next 12 hours.
What should the Christian response be to all this? “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Over and again in Scripture we are told to “fear not”. Fear is for those who do not know, recognize, admit, or realize that there is a sovereign God who is overseeing everything. Fear is for those who think they are “on their own” and must be anxious and fretful over every circumstance in life that is outside their control. Why have faith when you can worry yourself to death (again, note the sarcastic smirk)!
The Bible would teach us that God is in sovereign control of all that will happen. I love the story of the Calvinist who fell down a set of stairs, got up, dusted himself off and said, “Boy, I’m glad that’s over with.” Funny, right? But it communicates a basic premise; what is going to happen is going to happen. Now, does that mean we become irresponsible, walk in front of speeding Mack trucks, and kiss on the lips someone with the coronavirus? Of course not. Human responsibility dictates that we make wise and appropriate decisions including reasonable precautions in dangerous situations. It was the English Puritan, politician, and army commander Oliver Cromwell who was famous for telling his soldiers, “Praise the Lord…but keep your powder dry.” That strikes the right balance, I think, between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
But what we should not have is a “spirit of fear”. We should not be driven to extreme measures by fear. For instance, regardless of what history and common sense tells us, people usually allow fearful panic to dictate their investment decisions. This is why we see the stock market behave as it does whenever “bad news” erupts; especially “over-hyped” bad news. This is why we see a “run” on Costco. It is fear. We who trust the sovereignty of God are not, I trust, driven by fear knowing that he oversees every detail of our lives and of history.
Of what are we fearful? That we are going to catch the coronavirus and die? Sorry, you can’t scare me with heaven. And perhaps that is the gist of it; the world is so fearful because this is all they have, and to lose it is the ultimate tragedy. For the believer, this life is just the staging ground for the next. No wonder God has not given us a spirit of fear.
So, you’ll have to excuse me now as I end this blog. I’ve got to make a run on Costco before they are all out of ranch dressing.