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.
- S. Lewis, On Living in an Atomic Age (1948)
While I wasn’t around in 1948, I was here on the planet in 1961 when the Cold War felt pretty darn hot. Like a lot of middle class families, we stockpiled canned goods and paper goods in our basement, because, well, you never know. We had Civil Defense Air Raid drills in school. Remember “duck and cover?” And I certainly remember my usually very stoic father intently following the Huntley-Brinkley Report during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The threat of nuclear war was in the air, certainly never more real than in those dark days of 1961. There was fear abroad in the land.
It was in the shadow of what was often described as a potential nuclear holocaust that C. S. Lewis, beloved Anglican essayist, novelist, academic, and defender of the faith, wrote the words above. Those words are just as timely in this New Year as they were sixty-eight years ago. There is an undercurrent of fear abroad in our land today that is causing too many people to react with hostility and suspicion of their fellow human beings and a free floating dread about the future. This toxic brew of fear, suspicion, and dread leads those who succumb to it away from the healthy, wholesome, interconnected life which God intends for us. It is to this intention of God for our lives that Lewis was speaking those many years ago, and it is this intention of God for our lives that provides the antidote to fear.
Note that the “sensible and human things” that Lewis suggest begin with prayer. Prayer, rightly attended to, always leads us out of a preoccupation with self and back into communion with God. Then doing the normal business of our lives tending to family and to work, to friendships and a connection to beauty and the natural world, these all remind us what God made us for. God did not make us to be fearful, cowering, suspicious creatures. That’s the Devil’s prescription for us, not God’s. I learned not long ago that the phrase “do not be afraid” or some variant of it is spoken exactly 365 times in the Bible. Once for every day of the year. That is God’s intention for us. Fear belongs to Satan.
The season of Epiphany is the newest season of the New Year. Epiphany is the season of light, not the season of fear and darkness. St. Paul has a word for us in this Epihanytide that is particularly resonant in these times when fear seems ascendant.
The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day … not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.