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A Perspective on the Pandemic from C.S. Lewis
by Joel S. Woodruff, Ed.D., President of the C.S. Lewis Institute
As the world experiences the impact of the spread of the COVID-19 and our lives are thrown into both the chaos of change and the quiet of quarantine, I find that C.S. Lewis provides some insights into how we might approach this unique situation as disciples of Jesus Christ.
As a teenager, C.S. Lewis served as a British infantry officer in the trenches of World War I. He experienced firsthand the grim realities of that world crisis and returned home as a wounded veteran who would live with shrapnel lodged in his body the rest of his life. However, the emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds were to have an even greater impact on his life.
When World War II commenced, Lewis was once again jolted into facing the realities of a world crisis that brought suffering and death to the world. However, by this time he had reflected on these realities and was able to eloquently help others think about how to face death and crisis in a manner that was honest, yet hopeful.
In the following passage from a sermon that Lewis preached in Oxford at the onset of World War II titled, “Learning in War-Time,” one could easily substitute the word, “pandemic” or “coronavirus” in place of the word “war.” In doing so, the current coronavirus pandemic can help us re-focus, shatter any hopes that we could find ultimate fulfillment in this world, point us to the Divine reality, Jesus Christ, and help us find enjoyment in this life, knowing that our eternal Hope lies in the Lord.
Yet war [the coronavirus] does do something to death. It forces us to remember it. The only reason why the cancer at sixty or the paralysis at seventy-five do not bother us is that we forget them. War [the pandemic] makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.
All the animal life in us, all schemes of happiness that centered in this world, were always doomed to a final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realize it. Now the stupidest of us know. We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it. If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon. But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.
During these times it may be helpful to remember the words of our Lord Jesus in John 14:27,
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)
1 C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time”, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (HarperSanFranciso, 1980), pp. 62-63.