How Should We Then Live in a Time of War?

How Should We Then Live in a Time of War?

As Europe was facing the onset of war in 1939, Lewis preached a sermon in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford. With many other academics and students in attendance, the issue of how we should now live was certainly a pressing concern for all those present. So Lewis entitled his address, “Learning in War-Time”. What the academic community was thinking about learning while on the verge of total war was a most pressing matter indeed. Lewis gave those in attendance some very helpful advice. 

How we live in peacetime is often quite different from how we live in wartime. How people were living in Ukraine a few years ago for example was quite different from how most are living today, with their homes being destroyed, their very way of life put on hold, and many millions being forced to flee the country.

I have often spoken about these matters in terms of the Christian life. Especially during these dark days where the faith is under such sustained attack and where the culture wars seem to be threatening the very existence of the church, we need to think about living in times of war. As I said in one piece in this regard:

In a time of war not everyone stays true. Many surrender, or go over to the other side, or go AWOL. And individual believers risk doing the same thing. In the battles we face today there is no place for sitting on the fence, or trying to stay in the middle of the road.

When warfare is all around us, the only proper response is to engage in the battle. With faith, freedom and family all at risk, this is no time for business as usual. This is not the time to live a normal life. It certainly is not a time to have the fear of man, or a time to seek to please men. Let’s try pleasing God instead, even if it means ruffling a few feathers.

And one quote I have often used to ram home this point is also worth repeating here. In a 2014 essay called “A Time for Heroism” American Catholic philosopher Melissa Moschella said this:

Perhaps there are times and places in the history of the world in which it is possible to go through life as just an ordinary, good person—a faithful spouse, a loving parent, a concerned citizen, a regular church-goer, an honest and industrious professional—leading a normal, quiet life, not making waves or standing out in any way. Perhaps. But the United States of America in the year 2014 is not one of those times and places. Rather, in our contemporary society, the only way to be good is to be heroic. Failing to act with heroism inevitably makes us complicit in grave evils.

I of course still agree with all those sentiments that I have so often shared. But there is another way that Christians can look at all this. It is perhaps more accurate to say that we are in a state of warfare not just during times of great crisis or upheaval, or when the days are getting especially dark and evil, but ALWAYS.

That is, the Christian will always be in a state of war with the world around him, with the powers of darkness, and with this present evil age. Sure, sometimes the battles seem more intense than other times, but the Christian is never fully living in peacetime.

Even when most of the surrounding culture was Christian or at least fairly sympathetic to Christianity, the true Christian was always a bit of a misfit in this world. Indeed, we will never fully be at home here. We will always be in some sort of warfare – certainly always spiritual warfare.

Thus the practical question is this: how should we then live? When Christians are being heavily persecuted, rounded up into prison camps, and being killed, such a question takes on real urgency and significance. But we always need to be asking these sorts of questions.

And the issue is, do we just drop everything we are doing, head for the hills, and prepare for the end of the world? Or do we just go on living more or less normal lives, but with an eye always on eternity, and an awareness that this is not really our home, and battles will always be with us?

Christians can take differing approaches here. Some simply pull out of the world altogether, either to live as monks or as end-time survivalists. But some Christians live as if there is no war going on, and have very happily made themselves quite at home in this world.

Somewhere in between these extremes might be the biblical way to proceed. And to help me discuss this further, I once again simply draw upon the insights and great wisdom of English academic and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis. 

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