Career In the Time of Pandemic

Sisyphus is a figure from Greek mythology who, as king of Corinth, became infamous for his general trickery and cheating death twice. He ultimately got his due when Zeus (king of the Greek gods) dealt him the eternal punishment of forever rolling a boulder up a hill. From morning to evening, Sisyphus would roll the boulder up the hill, which was enchanted in such a way that it would roll back down just when Sisyphus reached the top. Imagine being condemned to repeat this chore every day for all eternity! Our daily routine during this Pandemic seems so much like Sisyphus’ never-ending and meaningless labour. The internet is full of –

• Information on how the Pandemic has affected our lives – socially, economically, health-wise, and indeed every aspect of human life.
• Advice on how smart students and professionals can improve their careers during the Pandemic
• Entertainment in the form of memes and spoofs on the misery of our lives at this time.

I do not intend to repeat the information that is already out there. Instead, I invite you to view the impact of the Pandemic on our careers through the lens of the Bible. For ease of understanding, I have categorised the people impacted by the Pandemic in the following three ways and I propose how a believer in each category ought to respond.

First are the ones whose lives and livelihoods have been adversely impacted by the Pandemic. Perhaps you have lost your job or experienced a reduction in salary. Maybe you are a graduating student whose employment prospects have shrunk significantly, leaving you staring at an uncertain future. Perhaps healthcare expenses in your family are sinking your savings. All you know now is that you don’t know. You don’t know how long this will last. It is difficult to even say if this will ever end. You have tried all you can to crawl your way out of this situation only to end up hopeless and helpless. The scenes of rejection at job interviews and memories of retrenchment play repeatedly on the screen of your mind. The nation of Judah faced a similar catastrophe in the year 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar bulldozed their beloved capital city Jerusalem and the great Temple in it which was the pivot of their national and religious pride. Page after page in the book of Lamentations is filled with descriptions of the despair the nation of Judah faced as they were carried off into exile by their Babylonian conquerors. It was all over for the people of Judah. The glories of the past were a fading memory. We encounter the first glimmer of hope in Lamentations 3:21 –

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” The verses following inform us what the “this” is which the author chooses to bring to memory, which gives him hope. The God of the Bible does not casually dismiss our heartaches and miseries with a wave of his hand. Instead, he wants us to recall the things which never change, namely his unchanging character. The Hebrew word “Chesed” or “Hesed” used in Lamentations 3:22 is such a loaded word in Hebrew that it takes two English words – lovingkindness or steadfast love – to convey the full weight of its meaning. Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon entitled “Memory—The Handmaid of Hope ”, cites Christian from “The Pilgrim’s Progress.” He says, “when Christian was locked up in the Doubting Castle, Memory formed the crab-tree club with which the famous giant beat his captives terribly. But one night, according to Bunyan, this same Memory which had scourged them, helped to set them free–for she whispered something in Christian’s ear and he cried out as one half amazed, “What a fool am I to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.” So he put his hand into his bosom and with much joy he plucked out the key and thrust it into the lock.” Romans 8:32 and Hebrews 13:5-8 are but mere drops in God’s ocean of promises and assurances to the believer struggling during these difficult times.

The second category of people consists of those whose health and wealth have remained largely unaffected by the Pandemic. Yes, there may be some minor inconveniences but they continue to earn a steady income. They have a contingency plan in place and have enough cash reserves to see them comfortably through. Perhaps it is because their skills and experience are in demand in the job market. Perhaps they have been wise and diligent with their finances. Perhaps they had more than one source of income. It is a good time for believers in this category to remind themselves of the reproving words of Deuteronomy 8. How easy it is to forget God with an adequate bank balance. The truth about us in this category is that we, like the Samaritan leper of Luke 17:11-19, have received mercy. It is very easy to become complacent like the rich man from Luke 12:16–21 to whom God says, “you fool!” To Christians who have made an idol of health and wealth, Jesus’ sobering words in Luke 12:15 ring true “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” In an age where God’s favour is commonly misinterpreted to be God’s favouritism, those of us in this category need to walk in thankfulness and sensitivity – sensitivity to God’s voice in the Bible and sensitivity to the great needs of the suffering world at our doorstep.

Finally, there is a third category of those whose lives and livelihoods have actually improved during this Pandemic. Amazing as it seems, many professionals and entrepreneurs have found themselves in circumstances which have made significant wealth creation possible because of the Pandemic. They might not have planned for it, but it just happened. The Bible has much to say to those in this category. First, is to acknowledge that it is God who made this blessing possible (Ecclesiastes 7:14). We tend to believe that such financial blessings are a reward for good behaviour. During times of financial prosperity, we must remind ourselves that ours is a faith that is based on being in a right relationship with God by faith in the Gospel and not a system of reward and punishment like the doctrine of Karma. We must re-think our understanding of seemingly explicit “blessing passages” like Deuteronomy 28. The following clarifications on this passage should prove helpful in realigning our vision when we become giddy with financial success:

• The verses in this chapter unquestionably speak of earthly (and not just spiritual) prosperity and fertility. We read, for example, that “the Lord will make you abound in prosperity,” (28:11). But they also serve God’s goal of bringing blessing to all the nations. As verse 10 puts it: “All the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD (Yahweh), and they shall be afraid of you.”

• This blessing is not portrayed as a reward for keeping the law; it rests on God’s promise and is an automatic consequence of being in a relationship with him. (Mary J. Evans)

• It is also important to remember that these blessings are corporate. If Israel is obedient, these blessings do not promise that each individual will be prosperous but rather the nation as a whole.

• We ought to note that the obedience-prosperity nexus that appears evident in Deuteronomy 28 is not always maintained – especially at the individual level – in the Old Testament. Job subverts this pattern.

• Finally, the laws given through Moses restrict the accumulation of wealth and the prophets frequently rail against its abuse.

The Bible has much to say to believers from all the three categories I have presented. It is also possible that the same individual will pass through all three categories during this Pandemic. Our careers may be going through an unprecedented phase during this Pandemic, but may the Word of God, which abides forever, help us navigate these strange days.

Sukumaran works as a Senior Consultant with Wipro and is married to Sharon, a clinical psychologist. They have a teenage daughter, Charis. Sukumaran and Sharon share a long history with the ministry of UESI.

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