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This does not exonerate business from its many trespasses, nor does it suggest that business can achieve such victories alone. These companies have collaborated with governments, universities, the NHS, and with ordinary citizens participating in trials. But the vaccine is one of countless examples in which the public good is served through private interest.
It is the pandemic’s stranglehold on that interest that is causing such acute economic hardship. Despite strenuous government effort, unemployment is set to soar as national economies plummet. The World Bank predicts that 100 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty this year, erasing almost all progress made in the last five years. By the end of this year in the UK, the number of people classed as destitute (unable to afford essentials like housing, energy, and food) is estimated to rise by around 700,000.
Statistics like these reflect the lives of real people. When business fails to flourish, everyone is impacted, but the poor are impacted the most. Although we have seen extraordinary acts of solidarity, kindness, and charity that have helped alleviate pain, most victims of the pandemic will not recover until business recovers.
What theological truths does all this highlight? Four stand out. Firstly, God is at work in the business sphere, just as God is at work in every other social sphere. Secondly, signs of God’s kingdom multiply when the various spheres of society not only fulfil their particular vocations but collaborate with each other to maximize the common good. Third, that the image of an all-wise, loving, and creative God is reflected in the amazing scientific capabilities of human beings, without which pharmaceutical companies would have nothing to draw on.
Fourthly and finally, God’s active presence in every social sphere means those spheres are ultimately accountable. For business, or any other sector, to trespass against people is to trespass against God. God’s ‘no’ to human sin applies in whichever sector it occurs, just as God’s ‘yes’ to human good will eventually, through the collaboration of all the social spheres, consign this pandemic to history.
Peter S Heslam
Peter is director of Faith in Business, Cambridge.