My Worst Fear Comes True
In Honor of Joel Ario
In Job's first speech, where he expressed his wish to return to primeval darkness and then to escape to the peaceful democratic realm of Sheol, he lets slip a thought that adds a piquant dimension to his suffering. A standard translation has it:
"Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me (3:25)."
A literal translation brings out the flavor even more:
"For I feared a very great fear, and it met me; The thing I dreaded came upon me."
Job's sorrowful admission gives us a both a window into his and our inner lives.
A Window into Job
Job 1 and 2 portrayed Job as an orderly, disciplined, religiously scrupulous and blessed man. At first he even accepted his calamities with equanimity. We had no indication that underneath his placid and regular surface might be a seething mass of volcanic instability. But when he reflects on his disaster, in Job 3, he says that his greatest fear befell him. Some have argued that this is an indication that Job was plagued with self-doubt and a guilty conscience, and that his careful religious observance (1:1-5) was an expression of that feeling. I would argue, in contrast, that Job's admission in 3:25 is a most human admission understood by all who have accumulated valuable possessions and valued relationships in life. Accumulation doesn't come without fear: fear that it could be taken away, that it could implode on us, that the very thing that promised liberation and pleasure might be the source of our undoing. Job entertained fears because he had so much to lose and was wise enough to know his vulnerabilities. When he lost all, it confirmed his worst nightmare. We frequently say, in times of distress, "It could have been worse." Job didn't have that luxury.
A Window into Us
In the Republic, Plato observes that the guardians of his ideal city have to be people who know what is to be feared. Only those with an awareness of civic vulnerabililty and fragility are worthy of leadership. So it is with us personally. The mature and realistic person is one who is aware of the things that might undo us financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually. Our challenge in life is not to try to "overcome" these vulnerabilities, so that we might be able to clamber to a height of unassailability and easy security; the challenge of life is to be cognizant of the dangers around us and still love, smile, hope and work for a better world. As a physician friend said to me, "If we truly were aware of all the god-awful ways that viruses can come in and just kill us, we might be afraid to live. We simply have to live and love knowing that those dangers are there."
With thoughts such as these, the words of Job can be sliced from their literary context and echo down the corridors of time to take up residence in our mind. They add a sober tinge to life, which can sometimes turn to melancholy. Yet we affirm the goodness of the gift of life even as we number our fears--and then keep reading Job.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long