Panic buying is a window on the sinful human heart

As you no doubt know, there is a new variant of COVID-19 spreading across our country. Depending on who you happen to listen to, this is either a total disaster or, whilst it does allow the virus to spread more rapidly, isn’t all that significant otherwise. Ultimately, time will tell but those of us without the skills to parse all the information are, once again, having to bear with another raft of government decisions as a consequence that may or may not prove necessary.

With the new variant of COVID-19, we are now facing a brand new problem. It seems lots of European countries – particularly France – are not keen for Brits to go wandering through their countries because of the new strain. That, in turn, has led to the M20 – the motorway run-in to the port of Dover – turning into a giant lorry carpark.

That new truck stop has created another problem. The ban on freight crossing the channel led to Supermarkets stating that there was the possibility of food shortages. That sounds particularly bad until you read, as reported by the BBC, ‘If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit.’ Ultimately, nothing many people are going to be that fussed about and certainly no food that would be considered vital. Indeed, a spokesman for Sainsbury’s said, ‘all of its Christmas lunch products were “already in the country” and it was looking at alternative ways of sourcing products from Europe.’ It really isn’t going to be the biggest deal for us.

That, of course, didn’t stop people panic buying. Most bizarrely, people began panic buying toilet roll (again)! There is a possibility – a possibility that hasn’t been realised yet – that in several weeks we may have a run on lemons and lettuce, yet apparently that has been a cause for people running out to buy toilet roll, meat and all sorts of things that are entirely unaffected. The supermarkets have repeatedly told us that they have enough food for Christmas and beyond, there is no need to panic buy. Ironically, then, the only thing that will lead to a food shortage at the moment is if people don’t listen to the supermarkets and insist on unnecessary stockpiling that will lead to the food shortages we all want to avoid.

The thing about panic buying is that nobody ever thinks they are doing it. It’s normally couched in terms of all those other idiots panic buying forcing me to go out and stockpile things that I don’t need! They are panic buying, I am merely taking precautions because of their panic. Everybody else is panic buying so I best get some stuff in quick before it all goes and, well, I may as well get a bit extra just in case. It’s only sensible. But, no, I’m not panic buying.

I think, in many ways, this gives us a window into the sinful human heart. Many of us simply don’t listen to the Lord when tells us how we ought to live in his Word. In the pursuit of happiness (or, whatever it is we’re after) we jettison the Word of God that tells us where true happiness is to be found. Much like the food shortages, the problem only arises when we decide, in our infinite wisdom, that the Lord is wrong and we ought to take other precautions despite what he says.

Then, of course, when those issues start to arise, we’re very quick to diagnose the problem in others whilst excusing it in ourselves. It is precisely what Adam and Eve did when they sinned in the Garden of Eden. Adam didn’t admit to disobedience, he insisted that he was just listening to his wife. Eve didn’t admit to disobedience, she insisted she was just listening to the serpent whom God himself had created. Yes, OK, we ate the fruit, but they are the one’s who really disobeyed, not me!

It has been the same way ever since. Others sin and disobey God, we are just pulled in and are powerless to do otherwise. Yes, we know we probably shouldn’t do X, Y or Z but under the circumstances, what else could we do? Our neighbours are being sinful, of course. But we’re just responding in the way we must under the circumstances. It’s not really our fault. We’re almost victims of circumstance – we couldn’t do anything other.

But just as food shortages will only be caused when lots of us refuse to heed the supermarkets and insist that – if everybody else is buying up food – we better stockpile too before it all goes, so issues of sin run rampant when, despite what God tells us, we insist we have to follow suit because, well, everybody else is doing it and we’ll be left behind if we don’t join them. We ultimately cause our own problems and then seek to blame everybody else for them. This is, fundamentally, the problem of the human heart. Everybody else is the issue, the problems are all ‘out there’, without much acknowledgement that I, too, am the problem and issues exist ‘in here’.

I hope most of us listen to the supermarkets and recognise that there will be no food shortages if we don’t all start stockpiling food. I hope we resist the temptation to panic buy. But perhaps, as we see others doing it around us, it will cause us to look deeper at why the world is the way it is. Why do we excuse in ourselves what we so quickly condemn in others? Perhaps as we ask that question, we might see the reality of our own sinful human hearts. As we come to terms with that, we can remember that this is happened at Christmas time, which centres on the antidote we need: ‘you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21).