Toilet Paper: A Case Study on Humanity

What’s up with the empty toilet paper shelves? 

On a list of unexpectedly fascinating aspects of this COVID-19 global crisis, toilet paper (or the lack thereof) would have to make that list. I’m not sure anyone would have equated a pandemic to toilet paper shortages – though that seems to be the situation we are in. 

In fact, several news articles have recently been published that seek to explain this phenomenon. 

A Bit of Context 

The National Post explains it as such: “fear of scarcity created scarcity.” An international tweet went viral, warning fellow countrymen to get toilet paper while they still could. Pictures of empty shelves began sprouting up over the internet and what started as a groundless warning turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

In another article, The Philadelphia Inquirer elicited the help of a few professionals to weigh in on the matter. While some of the shortage is caused by unforeseeable setbacks in the current supply chain management process (which is typically stable and predictable in the TP market), the issue can be traced to one word: hoarding. People aren’t using toilet paper more, per se (after all, CV-19 is a respiratory virus). They have just chosen to fill up their linen closets with this now-precious commodity.  

Why is that?

An Explanation 

Sources like Psychology Today put the blame on economics – specifically game theory (even citing a fascinating video displaying the hysteria). Ars Technica arrives dangerously close to the explanation, but then diverts the attention to social media. While it may be easy to look to failures in systems, this type of phenomena began long before the arrival of capitalism or Twitter… 

In Genesis 3, we see the inception of the thought, “God will not take care of me,” introduced into the mind of mankind. Convinced of this lie, our first parents acted on their doubt and, in turn, plummeted the entirety of humanity into sin, corruption, and death.  

Our default mentality turned from loving God with all we are and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39) to loving ourselves with all we are, at the expense of our neighbor (Genesis 6:5). According to Jeremiah 17:9, the heart of man is “more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick…”  

Why are folks hoarding TP en masse? Because of our wickedly selfish hearts that default to “what about me” rather than “what about you?” Suddenly blaming economics sounds like an ideal alternative…

The Solution 

In a short video about this hoarding phenomenon, Pastor Steve Viars draws from what the Apostle John teaches in his first epistle –  

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? – 1 John 3:17 

The solution Pastor Viars presents is simple and serves as the antithesis to the problem: compassion. Why would you take that which you do not need at the expense of others? A heart of compassion and care toward others would make quick work of ending this shortage. The verse before the referenced passage says it like this –  

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. – 1 John 3:16 

Jesus not only provides the means that enable us to consider others over ourselves, but He provides us with the ultimate example of what this looks like. Hoarding in a time of great need expresses “I live; you die.” Jesus entered into the world and exemplified “I die that you may live.” 

Some Take-aways 

Our toilet paper panic has certainly been an interesting case study on the nature of mankind. It’s often in times of desperation that we see the internal makeup of a person or group exposed, or as Jesus says it, “[the] mouth speaks from that which fills [the] heart” (Luke 6:45). The same goes with purchasing practices. 

What does compassion look like for you in this area? Maybe it’s as simple as asking the question you had always asked yourself when walking past the toilet paper section: “do we need TP?” If the honest answer is no, might I suggest leaving it (assuming you miraculously happen upon a roll or two) for someone in need?  

Perhaps you were one of the folks who hoarded or have made a practice of it (even with items outside of TP). Use it as an opportunity to do a bit of heart surgery (What motivated you? Lack of trust, sense of accomplishment, disregard for others, fear, social conformity, etc.), then turn the focus off self onto Christ and others.  

When is a thief no longer a thief? When he is “labor[ing], performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 6:28). When is the hoarder no longer a hoarder? When he is distributing rather than collecting. 

A Closing Remark 

In His divine sovereignty, the Lord has given us an opportunity to show compassion toward others in an area as simple as not buying toilet paper if we don’t need it. Brothers and sisters – I’m not sure we will get this kind of gentle-underhand-softball toss of an opportunity again in our lifetime; one that enables us to shine the light of Jesus in such a practical way. Let’s hit this one out of the park.

Stefan Nitzschke
Stefan Nitzschke serves on the pastoral team at Faith Church. He and his wife have a passion for discipleship and evangelism. They are the blessed parents of four carefree boys and one sweet girl.