The first time I ever saw empty shelves in grocery stores was behind the Iron Curtain in 1972 in what was then called Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Long lines waited to get whatever meager supplies were available in that communist utopia. In more remote areas of the USSR, I also discovered a novel supply of scarce toilet paper: shall we discreetly say, “pre-owned.” Even those sparse conditions were a mere shadow of the privations of Polish Jews during Nazi occupation, so hauntingly depicted in “The Pianist,” a reminder of how quickly one’s comfortable world can become a living nightmare in which “hoarding” becomes a daily matter of life or death. One shudders to think what unimaginable things you and I might do to survive.
These days, the term “hoarding” has morphed from its classic meaning (secretly storing or, more biblically, “laying by in store”) to an act of selfishly taking more than one needs. What’s the difference between “hoarding” and “prudent preparation”? Timing. Store up before a crisis and you’re a wise “prepper.” Do it during a crisis, and suddenly you become a mean-spirited hoarder. At least that’s how I justified my stocking up before most Brits sensed the impending danger. Ahead of the curve, I was following a lifetime of homespun advice: “Gather ye rosebuds (and canned goods) while ye may.” “The early bird gets the…toilet paper.” “Put away for a rainy (self-isolating) day.” And was I not proved wise, packing our extra “loo rolls” from the cottage in an otherwise-empty suitcase on our hasty return to the States?
In his parable of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids (Mt. 25:1-13), Jesus urged the wisdom of timely preparation before the Son of Man comes in all his glory dispensing divine judgment (25:31-46). The parable follows immediately after Jesus likens his surprise Second Coming to the days of Noah when everyone was having a reveling good time, totally oblivious to the impending catastrophe of the Flood (24:36-44). When Jesus comes, it will be too late for the unprepared to get prepared. Those with “oil in their lamps” won’t be able to share with those who didn’t appreciate the importance of being ready. Spiritually speaking, heaven is for “preppers”. What’s the difference between the saved and the lost? Timing again, perhaps.
If “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Co. 6:2), one is tempted to say, “Carpe diem!” Seize the day! But seizing eternal life is a far cry from what Horace had in mind, urging, in effect, that we “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” taking little or no thought of eternal consequences (Lk. 12:19-20). Sounds good when the shelves are full, but not so good when they’re frighteningly empty. Sounds appealing until we stop to think that the very reason we’re all isolating in our homes is because “this very night, our lives might be required of us.” Serious business, this. People are dying! One would be foolish indeed to think that, since Christ hasn’t returned in all these centuries, we needn’t worry about the end of the world in our lifetime. Whether or not Christ returns in this generation, there is the very real possibility that, because of a rogue virus going to and fro throughout the world seeking whom it may devour, our personal world might well end! Before we’ve mentally scheduled it!
Wouldn’t it be ironic if the favor of the Lord just might be found in this global “time out,” giving us a quiet moment to reflect on how well our souls are prepared for the death that awaits us all, whether because of a pandemic virus, or, hopefully, simply from old age. Now there’s a thought to grab from the shelf and carefully hoard.