If you’re alive in the world today, you are most likely suffering in some way. 2020 has turned out to be a year unlike any other. I know I’ve often said to myself, “This isn’t what I signed up for.” In the weightier moments, I can simply be reduced to tears. Perhaps you can relate.
In the midst of this turbulent and uncertain time, I have been thinking about what is, for me, one of the most poignant takeaways from C. S. Lewis’ clever work The Screwtape Letters. It has to do with time and what we focus on.
This is not the first time I have written on this particular concept from Lewis’ book, which proves we all need to be reminded of things we’ve learned before—especially when the tides have shifted. Just like the Israelites, we become forgetful people and need a renewed perspective.
A Subtle Twist of Perspective
In his 15th letter instructing his nephew, Wormwood, in the art of misguiding the human race, Uncle Screwtape gives this account of “the Enemy’s” (God’s) design for his creatures:
The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and that point of time which they call the Present. … He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it.
He also offers this advice on how best to misdirect a person’s focus:
Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. … In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. … Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future … fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.
Screwtape claims that God’s ideal is “a man who, having worked all day … washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.”
Conversely, the demons prefer “a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now” (emphasis in original).
Many of us are trying to white-knuckle it through the valley of the shadow of COVID-19 and the myriad concurrent struggles of our time. Racism, political unrest, and raging wildfires—not to mention the daily difficulties in our own personal lives—tempt us toward despair. We look to the future, wondering what will happen next, only to be crippled by fear, discouragement, depression, anger, even hopelessness.
But Christians are a people of hope.
Realigning Our Perspective
The way to challenge the reigning perspective of fear, hatred, and a mad scramble for control is to fix our eyes on that which we ought to be looking at: eternity and the present. It has often been said, “The present is all we have.” This is partly true and can be helpful for putting into focus the fact that we don’t know how much time we are given in this life. Yet it doesn’t tell the whole story.
In fact, we know the end of the story, and it is glorious (see esp. Rev. 19–22). Why? Because Jesus wins.
We know this. And yet, we fear.
The wiles of the enemy are subtle; he gets us fixated on news headlines, on little (or big) things that feel out of control. He tempts us to look back to the past, wishing we could return to “the good old days.” He turns our gaze toward the future, instilling fear in wondering how it could ever get better.
Though it is easier said than done, the path to peace in this (and any) season of suffering is realigning our perspective. This can only be done by focusing on the truth—and being rooted in Truth himself—through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The first letter of Peter holds a fitting message for us in this time:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet. 1:3–5)
We have a living hope, an inheritance that never spoils. It is “kept in heaven” for us, and we are presently “shielded by God’s power” as we await the consummation of Jesus’ salvific work. What precious, comforting good news! Peter continues:
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Pet. 1:6–9)
The original recipients of Peter’s letter also faced suffering in “all kinds of trials.” Christians over the centuries have faced trial after trial, in which the genuineness of their faith was tested. Hear this, brother; hear this sister: We are not alone.
And yet we are not told to focus on the trials themselves, nor on the suffering they bring. Our eyes are directed to the hope that we have in Jesus, that imperishable inheritance that is “kept in heaven for you.”
Realigning our perspective by fixing our eyes on eternity—which is ours in Christ Jesus this very present moment—let us meditate on this call: “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Pet. 1:13)