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Uncertainty: Three Tactics For Fighting the Unseen Enemy
The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it….Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice….If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. (49)
“Learning in War-Time” by C.S. Lewis
Editor's note: Ms. Carrier’s article is a reflection on episode one (“The Crisis of Uncertainty”) of the Learning in Wartime podcast. Listen now! Find it on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, and Stitcher as well.
An Unprecedented Time?
Many people, myself included, have referred to life during the COVID-19 pandemic as an “unprecedented time,” and that would be true in many respects. How many of us in America, especially under the age of say, sixty-five, have witnessed stores running out of toilet paper and posting signs limiting the number of bread loaves per person? When have we seen schools and churches nationwide close their doors and conduct lessons and services online? When have we been faced with a possible and actual shortage of PPE, tests, ventilators, and hospital beds? How many times have we given serious thought to a virus with no known cure or vaccine actually affecting those we know and love? It sounds like a nightmare from another country, another time, another world.
Yet there is a sense in which this time is not unprecedented at all. In the midst of uncertainty, those of us who use the word unprecedented are also making use of wartime language to describe this crisis, and even more so, many of us continue to look back to a specific war, namely, WWII. Perhaps it is due to the international scope of both eras, or perhaps it is due to the character of “The Greatest Generation” that many of us wish to emulate as we contemplate the question: How, now, shall we live? The first step might just be what many have found natural— to go back in time, and we do that in order to gather intelligence.
1. Go Back in Time
So let’s go back to WWII, to a middle-aged bachelor and Oxford don caring for the mother of an old friend and several evacuees from London, all little girls. In the midst of work and family, C.S. Lewis delivered a series of broadcast talks for the BBC that would later become the classic Mere Christianity. Less popular were his talks for men in the RAF and his own students at Oxford. In a lecture to his students, “Learning in Wartime,” Lewis points out the reality that despite the seeming nuances of wartime, we have always been faced with our own mortality.
We are all going to die. It is in times of crisis that we actually become more conscious of it, and we don’t like that very much.
Paradoxically, none of us are “mere mortals” but potentially either “immortal horrors or everlasting splendours” (46). Often we fall for the misconception that the spiritual and the ordinary are mutually exclusive, but as Lewis reminds us, it is the spiritual that gives breath to our everyday actions, and we should regard our most mundane performances as worship.We know this to be true, but it is hard to remember and live accordingly. It is at this perceived juncture between spiritual and ordinary that the ultimate invisible enemy attacks, and it is in these attacks that we often lose sight of the true enemy. Now it’s time to gather intelligence on enemy operations and align ourselves with our Warrior King.
2. Gather Intelligence
While recording the broadcasts that would become Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in which a senior demon named Screwtape writes to the young tempter Wormwood on the best way to claim a young man’s soul. In response to Wormwood’s excitement regarding the onset of WWII, the elder demon laments the loss of tactics implemented during peacetime: “...how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever” (24). Perhaps it is peacetime that should give us more pause.
In a subsequent letter, Screwtape explains the real strategy during wartime: “We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty…. [God] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them” (25).
Might this time of uncertainty be awakening us to truths we ignored only weeks ago? We’ve seen the ugly truths of our selfishness, from reported cases of hoarding and exploitation in the news to our own irritableness with those closest to us. But we’ve also witnessed Christ-like sacrifices from medical workers and others performing their daily jobs with inventiveness and perseverance. We’ve watched churches employ creative means for sharing the Gospel. And suddenly we are living a life of simplicity and solitude in which our families are our new community. Clearly we can see God’s faithfulness as He continues to awaken us despite the attacks on our souls during this time.
3. Align Yourself with our Warrior King
As Mr. Ballard said in our first podcast episode, it may feel cliche to say we need to pray more during this time, but it’s absolutely essential to combat the enemy’s tactics of distraction. When Paul writes to the Ephesians about putting on the armor of God, he says to do so, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18 ESV). Prayer not only provides us with a refuge, but it renews our minds as we think God’s thoughts after Him. Praying Scripture during this time might help us not only when we lack the words but to help us focus on the certainty of who God is, which brings us to our closing truth.
The Father’s love for us is so deep that Christ came in the flesh, experiencing human limitation and enduring (and conquering) every temptation that we have and will experience (Hebrews 4). The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express (Romans 8), and He is our Comforter (John 15 and 16).
Our Good and Sovereign God is not surprised by attacks physical or spiritual. He has experienced no ambush, and though He commands and equips us to fight, He does not place the burden of the outcome on our shoulders, for the battle belongs to our Warrior King who reigns victorious, even over death, hell, and the grave.
Lewis, C.S. “Learning in War Time.” The Weight of Glory and Other Essays. Harper Collins, 1980, pp. 47-63.
————— The Screwtape Letters. Harper Collins, 1996.
————— “The Weight of Glory.” The Weight of Glory and Other Essays. Harper Collins, 1980, pp. 25-46.
Chelsea Lee Carrier teaches eighth and tenth grade English at Providence Academy. She earned a B.A. in English from Union University and is studying in Faulkner University's Great Books Honors Program. She has six younger siblings and a cat named Strider.