C.S. Lewis on Living in Fearful Times
“Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.”
When a generation is faced with an apparent novel situation where the world as we know it seems to be falling apart, it behoves them to look back into the past to find wisdom from those who experienced surprisingly similar challenges and learn from their insights. The China Virus pandemic presents such an opportunity to turn for insight to the famous British author and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis.
The occasion was the fall of 1939, as the Nazi invasion of Poland had just ignited a second world war. As Britain was preparing to go to war, Lewis preached a sermon titled “Learning In War-Time.” Lewis, who had himself experienced first hand the devastation of war during World War I, admonished his listeners not to think that “your present predicament is more abnormal than it really is.” For the truth is, “human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice,” as even what we accept as “normal” times are “full of cries, alarms, difficulties, emergencies.”
In fact, Lewis argued that humankind’s constantly tenuous condition doesn’t stop our pressing forward into new developments and discoveries. It doesn’t stop humans from living life. He explained, “Men propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffold, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.”
So, instead of cowering in fear, Lewis encouraged people to move forward despite the uncertainty and danger. But how can one consistently live in the moment while not being overwhelmed with fear for the future? Lewis’s answer rested upon trusting the future to the only One who knows and ultimately controls it: God. “You may as well” leave it to God, he concluded, “for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not.” He added, “Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment as to the Lord.”
Finally, the key to living through the fear is knowing where one’s ultimate future lies. For the Christian, that God-promised future is eternity in Heaven — a sure future that no amount of difficulty or suffering here on earth will ever be able to take away. This reality frees the Christian to truly live in the moment rather than become overwhelmed by fear of an unknown future.
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