Reflecting on C.S. Lewis’ “Living in an Atomic Age”

All weekend, I went back and forth about what to write for today’s blog post. I initially thought I’d hop on here to share a comedic take of my homemade Panda Express experience from this weekend, which involved three failed batches of chicken batter and way too much ginger. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that would require me to ignore the growing COVID-19 pandemic that is spreading worldwide. While I know that there is a time for humor and plan to have more lighthearted things to share in the future, I want this week’s post to be more reflective in hopes that it can encourage my readers.

It is inspired by the sermon that my Dad gave this morning at church. As his sermon was livestreamed for those who couldn’t make it to the service, he read an excerpt included in C.S. Lewis’ book Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays. It was penned during a time when there was a near-constant fear of atomic warfare, but it has incredible implications for people today who are struggling with the worry that comes from the spread of this disease.

I thought it would be appropriate to share and have replaced each mention of “atomic bombs” with “coronavirus” to highlight its impact on today’s events.

On Living in an Atomic Age
By C.S. Lewis

 

In one way we think a great deal too much of the [coronavirus]. “How are we to live in a [coronavirus] age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, 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.”

 

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the [coronavirus]: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. 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.

 

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by [coronavirus], let that [disease] when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about [disease]. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

It is somewhat jarring to see how perfectly C.S. Lewis captured the worries that much of the world is experiencing today, and I want to keep his wisdom in mind as the uncertainty and anxiety continues. This is easier said than done as I seem to come across a new “BREAKING NEWS” notification every time I check my phone. These stories from a neverending news cycle reinforce how little I know about what will happen to the world, but in spite of that, there are a few truths that I do know.

I recognize how immensely blessed I am to be able to live near family and work from home, and even more importantly, I have the assurance that comes from knowing who holds the future in His hands. The peace that comes from my faith in God’s sovereignty allows me to handle anything that comes my way because, as Lewis said, “they need not dominate our minds.” I’ll do my best to keep that in mind in the coming weeks and hope you can do the same.

Let me know what you think!