Manna - what is it? That question is exactly what the Hebrew word ‘manna’ means. When the Israelites were in the desert, God provided food they did not recognize – it appeared as ‘thin flakes like frost’ (Ex 16.14-15). So they asked ‘what is it?’
Not only was the outward appearance of this food unique. So was its very short shelf-life. When some Israelites ignored God’s instructions and gathered more than they needed, the next morning it was full of maggots (Ex 16.20).
The scene in many grocery stores when the coronavirus pandemic took hold resembles that of those unruly Israelites. Hoarding left needy people deprived. There was plenty of food, and other supplies. But it was stacked away behind walls of fear erected by those who already had more than enough.
When we are tempted to fearful and selfish behaviour, we need to emulate two virtues. Both are missing from those Israelites but they pervade the words of a fellow Israelite – the farmer-turned-fugitive David. They are the virtues of contentment and trust. No stranger to danger and deprivation, he wrote that because the Lord was his shepherd, he would lack nothing (Ps 23.1).
Many people suddenly found they had more time on their hands than they expected; packed diaries shed their entries. They found new opportunities to put those virtues into practice by serving those in need, even while observing the lockdown restrictions.
This was largely due to electronic means of communication and community, through which no virus can be transmitted. It was also because homes, from where most people were compelled to work, are better supplied with light, heat, power, refrigeration, water and sanitation than at any other time in history.
These things – food, supplies, technology and utilities – have been at our disposal for such a time as this due to the providence of God. This providence has expressed itself through human creativity and ingenuity, made productive and profitable through business. It has also been expressed, when so many companies faced bankruptcy, through state attempts to secure jobs.
Recognizing such providence for what it really is – God at work through human work – can have transformative power, replacing a scarcity mentality with one of abundance. Early on in the lockdown, manufacturers of cars and vacuum cleaners started to produce ventilators, and major multinationals began assigning vast resources to assist struggling healthcare services and small businesses. They are just two examples of what can happen when an abundance mindset goes viral.
None of this downplays the hardship still facing many individuals, companies, and communities. But future historians could look back on the pandemic as a time when the various spheres of society (including business) came together to address such hardship with the innovation and resourcefulness needed to fulfil their vocation serve the common good.
Peter S Heslam, Director of Faith in Business