On Living in the Pandemic Age

When I was seven and eight years old (which would have been 1960 and 1961) I remember vividly the great fear people had over the threat of nuclear war. There was a nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Then came the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I remember having drills at school on what we would do should we find ourselves under nuclear attack. I remember several of my friend’s parents had very elaborate and expensive bomb shelters built. Clearly this threat caused great fear and anxiety in the lives of most of the adults in our country. It is very similar to what we are experiencing today with the Coronavirus.

Recently author Matt Smethurst pointed me to an essay written by C.S. Lewis titled “On Living in the Atomic Age.” It is very relevant to us today. As you read it, replace “atomic bomb” with “Coronavirus.”

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.

It is important to remember what God says about fear. In Isaiah 41:10, we are told “Do not fear because I am with you, do not anxiously look about, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. In John 14:27 Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

In both of these verses, God is not giving us a suggestion. He is commanding us not to be fearful, nor to be anxious. He tells us the reason why, “Because I am with you.” God is telling his people that He will walk with you through all of life, even as you face this pandemic. He tells us, “I will walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death . . . for I am with you,” Psalm 23:4.

So the question becomes, do I want to walk through life with Jesus, the source of peace, or do I want to walk alone? This is a choice only we can make for ourselves.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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