C. S. Lewis on Death and Wartime

Erwin Lutzer
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We are tempted to say that gruesome calamities are always bad while health and happiness are always good. But Jesus told a story that proved that such superficial evaluations can be deceptive. According to the story, a rich man who enjoyed life found himself in torment after he died; whereas, a beggar who suffered in this life found himself in bliss (see Luke 16:19–31). This sudden reversal of fortune reminds us that our judgments of today might have to be severely revised tomorrow! Enjoying life when all is going well might actually blind us to reality.

“The reality of imminent death has a way of focusing the mind on eternity.”

In one of his most popular books, The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis imagines a lead demon, Screwtape, writing letters to Wormwood, a demonic underling, to give him advice on how to deceive humans. We would think that war might be a great boon to the strategy of the devil, but Screwtape says that he and the other demons should not expect too much from the war; they can hope for a good deal of cruelty and unchasteness, but if the demons are not careful they might “see thousands turning . . . to the Enemy [God], while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self.”[1] Thus, in wartime, men prepare for death in ways they do not when things are going smoothly.

Then the demon continues.

How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestions of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition![2]

Lewis believes—and I concur—that “contented worldliness” is one of the demon’s best weapons at times of peace. But when disasters come, this weapon is rendered worthless. He writes, “In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.”[3]

This is one of the reasons why we will never know all of God’s purposes in mass disasters—we simply do not know the thousands who turned to God when threatened. Spiritually careless people are forced to take God seriously in a time of crisis. Some harden their hearts but others turn to God in desperation.

The reality of imminent death has a way of focusing the mind on eternity.

A Call to Prayer

As war continues to devastate Ukraine and its citizens, let’s pray in some specific ways:

  • Pray that God would, in one way or another, miraculously stop the war in Ukraine and preserve the lives of millions of people who are under threat of violence.
  • Ask God to protect the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, giving him the courage and endurance he needs to lead his country into a peaceful future.
  • Ask God to give wisdom to the leaders of the United States, the NATO countries, and other world leaders who want to assist Ukraine and its citizens without provoking more dire conflict.

This is part of a series of resources we have provided from Dr. Erwin Lutzer to help us process and pray about the war in Ukraine. Here are the other resources in the series:

C. S. Lewis on Death and Wartime

These Are Not Unprecedented Times

[1] C. S. Lewis, “The Screwtape Letters,” The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002), 198.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

For Further Reading:

Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters

by Erwin Lutzer

Where is God When We Suffer? God’s silence in the midst of human suffering is a great mystery of our existence. Faced with mass...

book cover for Pandemics, Plagues, and Natural Disasters