C.S. Lewis, learning & the tyranny of the urgent
In our social-media saturated world, it is easy to get caught up in the talk of the day. From Hollywood celebs news to the latest click-bait story about President Trump, we live on a sort of treadmill of news that is always going, but perhaps not always going somewhere.
That is partly why Christians today must be more intentional on training ourselves spiritually, physically and mentally (Luke 10:27; 1 Tim. 4:8) for service in God’s Kingdom. It’s that last component—cultivating the mind—I want to focus on today.
Allow me to do so by drawing attention to the internationally beloved author and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, who “preached the sermon ‘Learning in War-Time’… on Sunday, October 22, 1939,” which has much to say on this topic.
To think about Europe in 1939, when Lewis delivered the message, is to think about the “storm clouds of war” of which Churchill spoke. With a whole world on the brink of war, why think about anything else, especially long-term endeavors like cultivating learning?
That is what makes Lewis’ bold defense of educational and learning pursuits come at a time when many thought such “pursuits were unnecessary in the light of the war, or worse, irresponsible.”
Consider these words, in which he discusses the enemies of scholarly pursuit:
“The first enemy is excitement—the tendency to think and feel about the war when we had intended to think about our work. The best defense is a recognition that in this, as in everything else, the war has not really raised up a new enemy but only aggravated an old one. There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarrelling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable.
“The second enemy is frustration—the feeling that we shall not have time to finish. If I say to you that no one has time to finish, that the longest human life leaves a man, in any branch of learning, a beginner, I shall seem to you to be saying something quite academic and theoretical. You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of the tether, of how many things, even in middle life, we have to say ‘No time for that,’ ‘Too late now,’ and ‘Not for me.’
“But Nature herself forbids you to share that experience. A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”
As flawed human beings, we often get our priorities mixed up. But certainly Lewis’ words are worthy to read and ponder. I take great encouragement to know that, even when the world is falling down around us, there are some things worth doing because they are worth doing.
We must recognize that, to some degree or another, the world around us—and within own life circles—will always be in a state of duress, until Jesus returns. In the meantime, we can, like Lewis, pick up good books and learn great things, to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).