A quote from C.S. Lewis has being recently doing the rounds of the internet and there has been some criticism that it has no relevance to our situation today. I would argue that it has great relevance. Over 70 years ago, the world was panicking because of the proliferation of the newly developed nuclear bomb. After the U.S. dropped the devastating atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the world witnessed the horrific loss of life that they caused, a wave of fear swept across the world. Once it had been demonstrated how easily hundreds of thousands of lives could be extinguished by the press of a button, a kind of global hysteria set in. Doomsday prophets abounded and many people thought it was only a matter of time before mankind blew itself into extinction.
In the midst of this hysteria, C.S. Lewis wrote some wise and sobering words. Many people would be familiar with C.S. Lewis as the author of the Narnia novels, but he was much more than a fantasy novelist. C.S. Lewis was one of the greatest philosophers – arguably THE greatest – of the 20th century. Consider what he had to say to a society that was sliding into global hysteria:
“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. How are we to live in an atomic age? I am tempted to reply: As you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
C.S. Lewis continued:
“In other words, do not let us exaggerate the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”
C.S. Lewis then concluded by urging that people don’t become paralysed by fear and go on living their lives as normal. Obviously, this advice does not apply to us today, as the current pandemic necessitates that we must NOT go on living our lives as normal – we must self-isolate in an attempt to slow the virus. But apart from that one issue, can you see the other similarities with our situation today? It’s 70 years later, and a new deadly threat is causing global panic. To a world that is increasingly paralysed with fear, C.S. Lewis’s words are extremely relevant. In particular, he makes two very important points:
1. FACE UP TO YOUR MORTALITY. We are surrounded by things that can kill us, one of which will eventually do so. As Lewis says, death “is not a chance at all; but a certainty.” We need to come to terms with this. Obviously, we all hope that our eventual demise will be delayed as long as possible, but there are no guarantees. The fact remains that all of us will eventually leave this world behind. This is why the Bible urges us to prepare for what comes AFTER this life. Have you seriously considered your own mortality and given any thought to what comes after your life is over? Have you made your peace with God? Have you accepted the forgiveness that was purchased for you on the cross of Christ and is now offered to all who respond to Him in faith and repentance? As several philosophers of the past have stated, only a fool fails to prepare for what is inevitable.
2. HOLD ONTO YOUR HUMANITY. Fear, if we let it take hold, can cause us to turn inward. We can become selfish and greedy. Like cornered rats, we can scurry and scheme to try to build a bubble of resources around ourselves in an attempt to weather the storm. We can trample over the rights and needs of others in our desperate panic to look after ourselves. Sadly, we have seen this kind of ugly behaviour already.
A crisis like a pandemic will reveal your true nature: whatever is on the inside will tend to come out under pressure. So, what kind of person are you, really?
In this time of trouble and uncertainty, let us demonstrate the best of humanity, not the worst. Let us look after one another. Let us care for the most vulnerable and help those who are most in need. I would rather die as a humanitarian than live as a self-centred miser. And may this crisis also cause us to reflect on eternal things and turn back to our Creator.
Author of “Finding God When He Seems To Be Hiding”, “No More Monkey Business: Evolution in Crisis”, “Making Sense of the Bible”, “Rethinking the Gospel” and “The Little Book of Church Leadership.”
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