Roberto Rivera and John Stonestreet on C.S. Lewis and the Coronavirus

Photo courtesy: Public Domain

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.


The news this week about COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, has certainly, to understate it, escalated: New infections, grimmer projections, lots and lots of cancellations (including—can you believe it?—March Madness). The news changes so quickly day by day, even hour by hour, that it’s hard to keep up, much less know, really, what to think about all of this.

C.S. Lewis once said that we should read three old books for every new one. I think we should read three C.S. Lewis books for every new one. He never faced the coronavirus, of course, but in the late 1940s, the world was coming to grips with another threat: nuclear annihilation. The bomb was only a few years old, and in the hands of sworn national enemies. The uncertainty of what exactly could happen, not to mention what might happen, was palpable. In that context, C.S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age.”

I’m grateful to one of my BreakPoint colleagues, Ashlee Cowles, for reminding us of this essay along with some sage advice: Whenever you hear “atomic bomb” in this essay, think “coronavirus.”

“We think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb,” Lewis begins. To those who wonder how it’s possible to go on in the face of such a threat, Lewis recalls that theirs was not the first generation to live under a threatening shadow. In fact, if we’re honest, we all live under a sentence of death, and for some of us, that death could even be “unpleasant.”

The important question, says Lewis, is not whether or how we will die but if in the meantime we will be doing “sensible” and “human” things like “praying, working … reading, listening to music, bathing the children.”

Lewis asks his readers to consider the important but unsettling truth that “Nature does not, in the long run, favor life.” It’s an ominous observation that points to an essential worldview truth: “If Nature is all that exists—in other words, if there is no God and no life of some quite different sort somewhere outside of Nature—then all stories “will end in the same way: in a universe from which all life is banished without the hope of return.”

How do we respond to this unsettling truth? Lewis saw only three options: The first is suicide, something not uncommon in Britain of the 1940s and 50s. The second, “simply to have as good a time as possible. The universe is a universe of nonsense, but since you are here, grab what you can.”

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