Don't worry

But do take thought for the morrow

Issue: "Surviving the Y2K panic," April 3, 1999

The end of civilization as we know it? Or, January Fool's Day? The Y2K bug has engendered such a huge range of predictions that it's hard to know what to do besides sticking with the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

Because some Christians have embraced unlikely survivalist scenarios, other Christians are heading to the opposite extreme. I ran across one Internet writer purportedly quoting from chapter six of Matthew's Gospel and writing that we are to "Take no thought for the morrow ... take no thought for what you will eat or drink ... take no thought for your clothes." The writer's conclusion: Storing food or preparing in other ways for possible Y2K problems "is in complete opposition to this command."

Those verses could create consternation for Christians who know the Bible does not contradict itself. Proverbs 30:24-25 praises ants as "extremely wise" because they "are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer." The Bible describes without any critical comment Jacob's precautions in Genesis 32 when he is about to meet Esau, or Joseph's leadership in Genesis 41 when he has the Egyptians store food so that famine is forestalled. So why should we "take no thought"?

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Here's the solution: Christ never said that. "Take no thought" is a mistranslation. Both the NIV and the New King James translations do better, translating the repeated admonition as "do not worry" about food, clothing, or any other material possessions. John Calvin viewed the verse as "do not be anxious" and noted that "Christ reproves the over-anxious concern for food and clothing, over which men tear themselves with worry."

Calvin also noted that the verse does not mean people should be "relieved of all care for their own. We know that men come into this world on condition that they assume some responsibility." The goal, he said, is to avoid "useless torment, upon which the unbelievers waste themselves. If we think properly over what Christ says, it is not care in general which He forbids us, but such as is rooted in lack of faith."

God, in short, protects us-but one of the ways he protects us is by provoking us to take appropriate steps. God objectively knows what is to come but we, living through subjectivity day to day, do not, so preparation makes biblical sense. It obviously does not take the place of prayer, which should always come first, but communication with God propels us to Bible-based action.

How should we apply the general principle to Y2K concerns? First, we should prepare for both calamity and noncalamity. If we quit our jobs, head for the hills, and spend our last dollars on a generator, we may be prepared for whatever will happen on Jan. 1, 2000, but we will be unprepared for what is most likely to be happening on Feb. 1: nothing extraordinary.

So let's think of the spectrum of possibilities. We should not be anxious about food, water, heat, and light on Jan. 1. We should not abandon careers so we'll be anxious on Feb. 1. Individuals will have different ways to minimize both kinds of anxieties. For some, a one-month stockpile is plenty, and it seems very likely that they are right. Others, embracing a "better safe than sorry" motto, may want a longer supply.

In either case, I recommend stocking up not at the last minute but doing it soon, in case there is a late-year panic. (Doug Wilson of Idaho had a good line: "If nothing happens, the worst consequence is that you will be spared some extra trips to Wal-Mart in the next millennium.") I also recommend thinking about others. (Tim Keller of New York City had a good admonition: "Don't get ready just for your family; get ready for two or three other families.")

The greatest likelihood may be neither a bang nor a whimper, but a rolling recession. Big companies that can afford crash programs seem to be coming through, and demanding the same of their suppliers. Some small businesses that are not Y2K-ready may go under. Companies reliant on international trade may be hit hard. Terrorist attempts to take advantage of confusion are imponderables that are worth pondering.

Overall, it wouldn't be surprising to see increased unemployment and poverty next year, resulting in new pressures on churches obeying Scripture by showing concern for the poor. Churches that have had a few fat years, with some tithes of stock market profits, might stockpile some food for emergencies, but should also have a Y2K fund to make loans to those who are hard hit. If nothing bad happens, churches can use the food for a banquet and can invest the money in new programs.

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