Wisdom In A Time Of War

C. S. Lewis said, “...if the war has made me reconcile myself with the fact that there is sin in human beings, I shall no longer go with my head in the clouds, or buried in the sand like an ostrich, but I shall be wishing to face facts as they are.” And that will be a good thing, for “it is not being reconciled to the fact of sin that produces all the disasters in life.”

Lewis’s Screwtape knows this to be true. He tells Wormwood not to hope for too much from the war, for it will not destroy the faith of real believers and will under God produce a measure of realism about life, death, and the issues of eternity that was not there before. “One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless,” moaned Screwtape. “In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.”

“War,” said Lewis the preacher, “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.” Then he told his audience of undergraduates that they were at Oxford to study, that the values of being educated were not affected by the fact of war, and so they should get on with their academic work. Thus they would glorify God. For trusting God for the future, and attending to present daily duties and tasks, is the way to honor God in wartime, as at all other times.

Lewis sharply denies that the experience of war in any form changes everything, as some have been saying that September 11 did. Writing half a century ago of nuclear war, he risked sounding unfeeling in order to enforce the way of wisdom:

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....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 but a certainty....Let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, 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.

(This is a portion of an article which appeared in Christianity Today, January 7, 2002)