On Living in a Pandemic- Borrowed Thoughts from CS Lewis

This is a guest post by my good friend Adam King. Adam King is a husband, father, student at Liberty University Divinity School, Army officer, ordained by Grace Bible Church, and is directing his life toward pastoral ministry. He likes spending time with family, coffee, good discussion with friends, books, and cooking.

“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: “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 atomic bomb was invented: 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 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 (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

~C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

C.S. Lewis is often called a prophet. It is clear just from this passage alone that what gives Lewis the quality of a prophet is his understanding that “there is nothing new under the sun.” He recommends that we all read old books so that we do not make the same mistakes that our ancestors have made, and that two heads are better than one because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. Here the clear sea breeze of the past sweeps through and gives us a strong reminder for today.

Our situation in the coronavirus pandemic is not new, and in fact we all have an appointment with death, and since we all have that appointment, we should all be doing “sensible human things.” However, there is something to be reminded of in moments like these. Let this pandemic be a reminder that we are on a sinking ship, and if our hope is only in this life then we of all species are to be pitied most. I mean, that if there is nothing eternal outside this life, and we, having accidently become aware of our situation, are tempted to assign meaning to our truly meaningless life, then “eat and drink for tomorrow we die.”

I am a believer in a more hopeful answer.

They might have a point

One of my books took more than a year to write, ten hours a day. Another took three weeks. Both sell for the same price. The quicker one outsold the other 20 to 1.

A $200 bottle of wine costs almost exactly as much to make as a $35 bottle of wine.

The cost of something is largely irrelevant, people are paying attention to its value.

Your customers don’t care what it took for you to make something. They care about what it does for them.

~Seth Godin, Cost and Value

Pastoral work familiarized me with the feeling of doing work others found less than helpful. You have to get used to unattended meetings and sleeping congregants. At times I would question the spiritual maturity of the flock. If they only knew, they would hear my sermons and read my writing with rapt attention. They would remove their sandals and bathe in my glory.

Writers like Godin help me reconsider. I might actually be boring. Am I creating value? Am I speaking and writing in a way that helps my congregation see things they’ve always wanted to see? Am I causing the Bible to seem boring and useless for everyday life?

I’m aware that it is God who gives growth (1 Cor. 3:6). The gardener can plant and water, but photosynthesis needs to do its thing. Pastoral work, as with most of life, often involves planting seeds and praying for their success.

Unfortunately, many pastors use this truth as an excuse for shoddy work. We leave our seed in the bag and commend its growth to God. Rather, the Apostle Paul would say things like “I worked harder than any of them” (1 Cor. 15:10).

I can safely assume that I could have done something better. I can always speak with more vitality and clarity. I’ve never prayed too long over a sermon.

The trick is to work hard on the right things in the right way. Your congregants don’t care what it took for you to make something. They care about what it does for them.

Ravi Zacharias

In the teaching of Jesus, eternity, morality, accountability, and charity define the nature of our existence and the pattern of our behavior. Is it any wonder that the Christian faith is the richest faith in music and worship? It is based on a relationship, expressed in worship, demonstrated in charity, a great leveler of humanity, and it reaches into eternity. It can take captive the mind of a child and set free the greatest philosopher—both can express wonder in the most simple yet sublime terms.

~Ravi Zacharias in Jesus Among Secular Gods (p. 60)

Ravi is now with the Lord he faithfully served. He taught me that my desires for wonder and beauty would find their satisfaction in the person of Jesus Christ. He was a classy kind of guy. He also convinced me that I should read widely to deepen my faith. God’s kindness allowed so many of us to benefit from his ministry. He was a philosopher of the heart and a preacher of the cross.

I’d love to hear from you about his impact on your life. Feel free to share in the comments below. Pray for his family. Kyrie Eleison.

Blind from Birth

Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”. John 9:6

“Why God, would you do this to me?” I Stumbled along, cursing and groaning at the pain of the grit grinding and burning under my eyelids. With every stagger grains of sand and flecks of mineral clawed at my useless eyes. Tears ran down my face mixing with the drying spit on my cheek. Rage for the man who had done this to me and the agony of having the faintest hope shatter into another filthy trick played by hateful humans radiated from me. Shrieking children dove away as I crashed my way towards the pool.

“Go wash yourself in the pool”. How could he be so calm and sound so gentle while handing me the nastiest trick I could imagine?

The pain stabbed my eyeballs as I slammed into the corner of each familiar building, crashing into them instead of my normal cautious fumbling along. The scraping torture in my eyes blinded me to my bleeding knuckles hitting stone walls and shins finding every low obstacle. Inside the pain boiled an exploding confusion and fury at this man who claimed to be God but turned my hope for healing into torment.

When I finally felt the steps downward beneath my feet I dove recklessly towards any kind of relief. Anything to get the fire of Christs cruel spit out of my eyes. My elbow smashed into the stone corner as I splashed in, ignoring the laughter from the men sitting poolside.

I rested my head under, gently letting the cold water filter in and the pain soak away. Rest.

The first thing I ever saw was light. The sunbeams flirted in and out of the ripples on the surface and then drifted down to bounce across the stone on the bottom of the pool. Gigantic Diamonds of sunshine worth more than a cart of gold to a man who had never seen them.

The pain of the sand, the bleeding elbow, and battered, torn shins were forgotten in the beauty of seeing at last. For a moment under the water the God I had begged as a child and cursed as an adult held me close and washed away the agony of twenty-nine years of utter darkness. The lifetime of confusion, terror, frustration, and furious bitterness at my Creator sank down to burn in the flickering flames of the sun around my feet.

The moments after gasping up from underwater are a blur of racing through the streets, looking for a man I would recognize only by the sound of his voice. No desire to stop and soak in all the things I had only smelled, heard, touched, or tasted. Only time to rush headlong down those same paths seeking one face out of all the faces I had never seen. The recklessness of pain had been replaced by a reckless need for answers. The confusion of his shocking cruelty was conquered by shocked wonder at why one would do a miraculous work and then disappear.

“Why God, would you do this to me?”