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Abundance of Caution

“We detected it (Monday), and in an abundance of caution, we’re going to do deep cleaning, and we’re going to close for five days,”

Health Department official on closing a health department clinic because of exposure to Covid-19

Abundance of Caution – Covid-19

The phrase “abundance of caution” is easily one of the most regrettable phrases resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has been overused.

It has been excessively used to cover poor management.  And, as the quote above demonstrates, it has been misused to compensate for fear and poor decision-making.  How could a health office, whose mission is to deal with pandemics, close due to exposure to a pandemic?

Abundance of Caution

However, the poor use of “abundance of caution” did not originate with the pandemic.  It has been with us for a long time.

Several years ago, I was asked to evaluate a parcel of land as a potential residential development.  After researching the property, I developed a proforma, and in those calculations, I identified a “factor of safety” to compensate for unexpected circumstances.   The person I was working for then added their own “factor of safety.”   His banker added another factor of safety, and the final approving mortgagor added a fourth factor of safety.

All told, out of the abundance of caution, the project’s cost tripled before it started and was scrapped for being too expensive.

A short time later, another developer with less concern for the “abundance of caution” developed the property and made a significant return on his investment.

Abundance of Caution in Everyday Life

Life is full of risks.

Every time you drive a car, you have the risk of an accident.  Likewise, nearly every food group has been identified by one well-meaning organization or other as being bad for you.  According to some, all children should be homeschooled because of the dangers found at public schools.

No one would play sports because of the physical risk of participating and the mental risk of losing.  And, considering the number of people who die in their sleep, we need to figure out some way to perpetually stay awake.


Those are all extremes, of course.  But that is somewhat exemplified by the word abundance.  Abundance means “a great or plentiful amount, an ample quantity”—not a normal amount but an excessive amount.

And an abundance of caution starts to take away from our abundance of life — life is meant to be full of risks.

The Bible

Ephesians 5:15 says:

“Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,”

Here is the key—be wise.

A person is equally unwise if they exercise no caution or if they exercise excessive (abundant) caution.  The wise person exercises regular caution.  They don’t add factors of safety on top of factors of safety.

How do we know what regular caution is?  Deuteronomy 4:9 says

“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.”

The Bible is full of people who took significant risks and exercised caution simultaneously.  Joshua, Debora, Esther, Elisha, and Barnabas all stepped out and took chances.  But those chances were all well-thought-out, were in line with want they knew to be historically true, and were in conformance to the teaching of our Lord and Savior.

We cannot rely on our own understanding of what is overly cautious and what is practical and right.  Those instructions come only from God.

In the end, we are to have an abundant life, as is promised to us in the Bible.  Fearing every transaction, food group, virus, and stranger leads to a life of isolation and fear.  Our world is enchanting, and the way to experience an abundant life is to trust God to set your levels of risk.