The pandemic shows with special power how vital business is to society and each of us.
Here, for example, is the development of a vaccine. It wasn’t created by charities, the government, or even the National Health Service. It was created by businesses. Or, more specifically, companies like Moderna, BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer.
This fact does not justify a lot of the harm done by corporations, nor is it proof that companies can achieve such victories on their own. Companies must cooperate with governments, universities, health services, and also with volunteers – ordinary citizens who have taken part in drug trials. But vaccine development is one of the countless examples of how private interests can serve the public good.
On the other hand, it is the iron grip of the pandemic, which stifles business interests, that is responsible for today’s acute economic situation. Despite continued government efforts, unemployment rates are rising as national economies plummet into the abyss. The World Bank predicts that 100 million people could fall below the extreme poverty line this year. This would undo virtually all the progress against poverty made in the past five years. By the end of this year, the number of people in the poor category (unable to provide for their most basic needs, such as housing, energy, and food) in Britain will rise to 700,000.
These are not just statistics, these are the lives of real people. When businesses don’t succeed, everyone suffers, especially the poor. While we see incredible acts of solidarity, kindness, and charity helping to ease the pain of the crisis, most victims of the pandemic will not recover until business recovers.
What theological truths does this show us? Four points can be distinguished.
First, we can see God’s presence and action in the realm of business just as we can in any other area of public life.
Second, the signs of God’s kingdom are multiplied when the various social areas not only fulfill their specific tasks but also cooperate to maximize the public good.
Third, in the amazing scientific abilities of man that underlie the vaccine created, the character of God, the omniscient and loving Creator, is manifested. Without these God-given abilities, pharmaceutical companies could not have created anything.
And the final fourth point is that God’s active presence in every area of public life means that all these areas are ultimately accountable to Him. The crime against people in business is a crime against God. In every area of human activity, God’s response to human sin will always be a strict “no!” But showing goodness in people, cooperating in the struggle against common misfortune will always be met with God’s “yes.” And it is this “yes” that will ultimately make this pandemic a thing of the past.
Peter S. Heslam (Director, Faith in Business, Cambridge)