Since the coronavirus pandemic began unfolding, many have—rightly!—pointed to and drawn parallels between our moment and the moment C. S. Lewis addresses in his fantastic essay “On Living in an Atomic Age.” In that piece Lewis offers this wisdom:
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. (“On Living in an Atomic Age” in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays)
But is the coronavirus actually like the atomic bomb? Yes and no.
First, the yes. Lewis’ point in the essay is that we will all face death at some point by bomb or microbe. And in this way our current moment with the coronavirus is no different than Lewis’ with the atomic bomb. Whether by bomb, virus, car accident, cancer, or a quiet death in our sleep at “a ripe old age”, we are dust and to dust we shall return.
However, there is one key way in which the coronavirus threat and the threat of nuclear annihilation are VERY different.
In 1948 when Lewis wrote his essay—and for us still today—there is precious little that you and I can do directly with our daily actions to keep a nuclear weapon from unleashing mass destruction. So in light of the nuclear threat we simply must live life as usual—keep calm and carry on. There is no use huddling in a bunker refusing to go to the movies or the office or a concert or church.
But this is where the coronavirus threat is dramatically and radically different from the nuclear threat. What you and I do with our daily actions makes ALL the difference in the world to the severity of the threat.
Handwashing will not stop an atomic bomb, but it has stopped and will help stop the coronavirus. Social distancing won’t prevent a rogue terrorist from detonating a dirty bomb. But social distancing can slow the spread of the virus resulting directly in lives being saved—in particular the lives of the most vulnerable.
So, yes, we must keep doing “sensible and human things” but in a way that loves our neighbors well. We keep social distance not out of fear but out of love. Your actions. My actions. Make a difference. Love one another well.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NIV) Now I never imagined that loving my friends and neighbors would someday look like social distancing.
I never imagined a moment where loving my neighbors would look like not visiting them in the hospital. I never imagined that laying down my life would mean not hugging friends when I see them in the grocery store. Or that neighborly love would look like keeping six feet of distance between me and my neighbors when we meet on the sidewalk.
But Jesus did. This moment is not a surprise to Him. He is our ruling, reigning and present King—God with us. And His presence bridges the social distance. He fills gaps between us with His love and presence.