What we most fear may find us — whether we worry about it or not. But as Christians, we need not be anxious about our lives or obsess over every possible calamity. Our dread does not match the world’s dread (Isaiah 8:12–13); rather, we fear God and trust him. We live our lives in atomic ages — or any other — entrusting ourselves to a faithful Creator while doing good, testifying.
A line in the book of Job detained me: “The thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me” (Job 3:25). The chief fear arrived. The one that kept him up at night found him. The worst to visit his imagination befell him.
As a result, he welcomes death, but it tarries. He sighs and moans in anguish, cursing the day of his birth (Job 3:1). Arrows from the Almighty sink into him; his spirit drinks their poison (Job 6:4). He finds no rest in the rubble (Job 7:4). His eyes search and see no good (Job 7:7). He loathes his life, and is glad not to live forever (Job 7:16).
Few things in life can lay us this low.
I imagine the dread that caught him was the death of his ten children. Of the few glimpses of him before his misery, we see his fatherly concern for them, continually offering sacrifices on their behalf. “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5).
Perhaps he feared that he cared more about their sin than they did. Perhaps he now lay buried beneath sorrow because they very possibly died in unbelief. Regardless, this father of ten lost all his children in one day, and this horror strangled his will to go on.
In a World of Threat
What do you dread? What would have to happen for you to say, “What I have feared has come upon me”? Having your mother die of cancer? Never finding a spouse? Discovering your wife has committed adultery? Seeing your parents get divorced? Hearing the specialist say that your child will not have a normal life? Witnessing a child die apart from Christ?
Fears that I did not know as a single man have crept upon me: losing my wife, or one of our children. As a family man, I realize how much more vulnerable I am to new depths of pain. The drawbridge of my heart has lowered; calamities and despair have more inroads now.
The line between my life and Job’s rests upon a spider’s web. The worst case can arrive in countless ways. Car accidents, disease, a fall, a crash, a swallow, a moment’s lapse in judgment. Chaldeans do not need to raid and destroy; violent winds do not need to collapse the house to make me know Job’s anguish. A run into the street, a doctor’s phone call, a fall from the slide, a toy in the mouth can bring my world down — at any moment, in any place, by nearly any means.
Paralyzed with Peril
Before Job lived in a world of sorrow, he lived in the world of what if. . . “The thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me” (Job 3:25). He dreaded before it came, feared before it actualized.
I do not wish to usher you into this world if you’ve never thought this way. But I know people who live in this world, one I am tempted to frequent more than before. A world where catastrophe lurks; a world that envelopes like quicksand: If I can just envision how my life could crumble, I think, maybe I prevent it, or at least inoculate myself against some of the sorrow.
The story of Job teaches us that neither works.
As he sits, cutting his boils with shards of pottery, his anguish reminds us that no degree of dread beforehand can avert our greatest fears. And imagining them beforehand does not ease the pain should they arrive. The anxiety, the fret, the darting eyes to and fro cannot do as we often hope. As Jesus asked, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27) — or, he might add, to the lives of those we love?