Selfishness and Selflessness Amid COVID-19
Crises, big or small, have a way of revealing what we’re really like on the inside. They can bring out the best in us, and they can bring out the worst in us. The current coronavirus pandemic has been no exception to this rule. We have seen publicized instances of greed and selfishness as well as great acts of kindness and self-sacrifice. It’s important to keep in mind that each of us individually has the potential for both extremes inside us. The seriousness of the current situation, or any other crisis, will simply heighten the impulses that we are already prone to follow. The decision now is the same as it always has been: we can either follow our carnal, corrupt desires or we can strive for a better way. The key to responding the right way during a crisis is by walking in the Spirit and striving to put others before ourselves on a daily basis, through the mundane and the exceptional alike.
In some of the earlier stages of the virus, sellers like Noah Colvin started to buy as much hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes as they could in order to resell them later for a profit. Noah and his brother drove around Tennessee and Kentucky, clearing out shelves at local businesses. In doing so, they deprived local communities of those products. They then turned around and sold them online and were able to charge exorbitant prices, up to $70 per bottle of hand sanitizer, knowing that customers would pay that much out of desperation. Colvin isn’t the only one who has done this, leading to a shortage of supplies immediately available to communities who need them. They capitalized on people’s fear and desperation in order to make some easy money. (After Amazon and other online retailers banned them and other price-gougers, as well as some pressure from the Attorney General, the Colvins did donate their supply. ) Many individuals have also been hoarding food and other daily necessities, most notably toilet paper, resulting in empty shelves.
God has a lot to say about greed, and none of it is good. The Psalmist equates trusting in one’s own riches with evil (Psalm 52). God instructs the prophet Jeremiah to warn King Jehoiakim that he will be dethroned because he enriched himself at the expense of the needy (Jeremiah 22:17-19). Proverbs 1 says that greed becomes the downfall of the one who is consumed by it: “But these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors” (verse 18-19).
Yeshua tells a sobering parable about the futility of accumulating wealth for oneself: “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).
The greed displayed by the Colvins and their ilk is thrown into sharp relief during a time like this because of the extremity of the situation. It is very easy to notice and condemn because 1) it is someone else’s greed and 2) it is so flagrant. But the reality is that each of us must contend against greed in our own lives. It is more difficult to see our own greed because it tends to be more subtle and easy to justify. Yeshua warns, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Greed can take varied forms. We can be greedy like the rich man in Yeshua’s parable who amassed wealth in order to lavish it on himself. We can be greedy by looking to our own needs but ignoring the needs of others. Outside of financial greed, we can be greedy with our time by not giving it to God. We can be greedy by asserting our will above others. Examples could be multiplied.
Thankfully, we have also seen many examples of people putting others before themselves. Doctors and medical staff in the affected regions have been working around the clock, putting themselves at risk of exposure to the virus. Some have themselves died as a result. Retirees have volunteered to come out of retirement in order to help. There have been many stories of companies and wealthy individuals donating money for food and medical supplies. People have individually stepped up in their communities to safely bring daily necessities and social contact to those nearby who are sheltering in place. Others are working to develop technology to connect those in need with volunteers. Communities are pulling together to meet each other's needs.
One of the most simple (yet no less important) selfless acts is for individuals to behave responsibly during this time so that they don’t spread the virus. Health experts have emphasized the need for social distancing and enhanced attention toward hygiene. Unnecessary travel and public presence increases your risk of exposing yourself and subsequently everyone you come into contact with. Furthermore, a significant number of cases are apparently asymptomatic or display only mild symptoms, meaning even if you don’t feel sick it is important to follow these health guidelines in order to protect the people around you. Those who are sick can behave selflessly by interrupting their lifestyle and self-isolating to prevent their loved ones from being exposed. It is not just the doctors and the billionaires who can make a difference during this time. The actions of each person are important.
Another way that we can practice selflessness and extend the love of Yeshua is by reaching out to the people around us. Social distancing can lead to isolation. This isolation can mean a lack of emotional support, and this means lots of people are going to be anxious and fearful. A simple way to extend the love of Yeshua to our friends and neighbors is to give them a call, a letter (probably without licking the envelope), or even send them a message through Facebook. Check in on them and see how they are doing and if they need anything: maybe groceries, cleaning/maintenance, or spiritual encouragement. Our responsibility to prevent the spread of the virus does not negate our responsibility to help others when they need help.
As disciples of Yeshua it is our special task to meet the needs of others. In a parable about the final judgment, He says this to those He calls wicked: “‘I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me’” (Matthew 25:42-45).
Let’s follow the examples of the selfless during this time rather than the examples of the selfish; and not only during this present trial, but during every circumstance, whether good or bad.