God’s Peace in a Nuclear Age: Wisdom from Lewis

I grew up with the nuclear threat; it’s always been there. C. S. Lewis didn’t. He was 46 when those bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending WWII. So one might expect a different reaction from someone in his generation. As he surveyed the response to this new weapon, he saw that many were nearly beside themselves with fear; yet he continued to offer clear thinking on this subject (as he did on all subjects).

Three years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he authored an essay called “On Living in an Atomic Age.” “In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb,” he argued. Many were asking, “How are we to live in an atomic 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.”

We should not “begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation,” he counseled. We need to keep in mind that all people “were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented,” and in case we are living in a fantasy, he added, “and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.”

“Death itself,” Lewis reminds us, has never been “a chance at all, but a certainty.”

Then he gives this sound advice:

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb 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 bombs. They may break our bodies (any microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

I find Lewis’s perspective to be in accord with Scripture. Here are a few samples:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. –I Peter 5:6-7

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. –Psalm 23:4

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. –Matthew 6:34

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. –John 14:27

May the peace of God be with us all this day.

Jesus & Anxiety: A Lewis Primer

Letters to MalcolmAnother C. S. Lewis book that I read recently—for the first time—is Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. One section speaks directly to me with respect to a hard time I’m going through at the moment.

We would like the world to be predictable, something we can manage according to our expectations. Lewis says we have to lay that expectation aside:

But is it not plain that this predictable world . . . is not the world we live in? This is a world of bets and insurance policies, of hopes and anxieties, where “nothing is certain but the unexpected” and prudence lies in “the masterly administration of the unforeseen.”

Nearly all the things people pray about are unpredictable: the result of a battle or an operation, the losing or getting of a job, the reciprocation of a love. We don’t pray about eclipses.

Therefore, despite our faith, we can’t avoid the potential anxieties life throws at us. Lewis seeks, though, to distinguish between anxiety and sin:

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ.

Jesus in GethsemaneJesus, Lewis reminds us, had to suffer anxiety in order to be fully human. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to the crucifixion, held the hope, however slim, that He might not have to go through with it:

Lest any trial incident to humanity should be lacking, the torments of hope—of suspense, anxiety—were at the last moment loosed upon Him—the supposed possibility that, after all, He might, He just conceivably might, be spared the supreme horror.

If Jesus hadn’t sweat blood in the Garden, “perhaps He would not have been very Man. To live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man.”

Lewis concludes these thoughts with this:

We all try to accept with some sort of submission our afflictions when they actually arrive. But the prayer in Gethsemane shows that the preceding anxiety is equally God’s will and equally part of our human destiny. The perfect Man experienced it. And the servant is not greater than the master. We are Christians, not Stoics.

Who am I to think that I should be allowed a lifetime full of completely manageable, totally predictable moments? That expectation would place me above my Master.

I like Lewis’s final sentence very much. The Stoics attempted to glide through life unaffected by anything bad that happened. They sought to so completely control their emotions that nothing bothered them. That is unrealistic.

Christians should not expect to be unaffected by the sin and misery that are the common lot of us all, redeemed and unredeemed alike. What we have that the unredeemed do not is a Savior we can look to who knows what it is like to experience similar anxieties. He was fully human, even as He was fully God. He can come to our aid in our darkest hours.