Fiddling While Rome Burns
On October 22, 1939, C.S. Lewis preached his first sermon, None Other Gods: Culture in War-Time. The location was Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford. The topic he approached was a question that many people in England, students in particular, were asking in light of having declared war against Germany only a month before: What role does education serve during a time of national crisis?
The sermon was later published as an essay under the title Learning in War Time in the volume The Weight of Glory. Lewis answers the question of whether or not the academic life is appropriate in war time by encouraging his audience to consider what is appropriate in times of peace. To help the Christian consider this topic Lewis puts it in the context of Hell, what he describes as a “crude monosyllable.” Lewis asks whether, in light of eternity, any daily activity other than winning souls is a noble endeavor.
Lewis concludes that God has given us all vocations, and to the extent that they are done to his glory, even as we seek to share the gospel with others, they are indeed worthy causes. “All our merely natural activities will be accepted,” he writes, “if they are offered to God, even the humblest: and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not.” If our daily tasks can be carried out as unto the glory of God with an understanding of the eternal implications of life and death, Heaven and Hell, then war, in comparison, shouldn’t change our attitude. It is of lesser, though not insignificant, concern.
“The mole must dig to the glory of God,” Lewis said, “and the cock must crow.”