The Thing I Greatly feared.
“For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” Amen. The word of God. thanks be to God.
1984 is a SF novel by George Orwell, published in 1949, about a world where individual liberty has been totally obliterated. The novel is set in Oceania, one of three intercontinental super-states which rule the world. The hero is Winston Smith who lives in the province of Oceania that was once England. Posters of the government leader, Big Brother, dominate London. They read BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.
The government controls the population by the Ministry of Truth (abbreviated “Minitrue”). In fact, Minitrue is a government propaganda machine. Winston Smith works as an editor at Minitrue, revising historical records to make the past consistent with the current government line. For example, if a person becomes unpopular with the ruling party, that person can be written out of existence. No birth date, no death date. The person can disappear.
Winston Smith's story begins on April 4th, 1984. The opening line of the novel reads, "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen"; yet the date is questionable since the Ministry of Truth constantly revises dates to fit the latest party line. Winston Smith lives a squalid existence in a one-room apartment, eating a subsistence diet of black bread and synthetic meals washed down with cheap gin.
He begins to rebel. He keeps a journal of negative thoughts about Big Brother, which, if discovered by the Thought Police, will warrant death. Hidden cameras are everywhere, hidden microphones are everywhere, the Thought Police are everywhere. Informers are everywhere.
Ultimately Winston’s rebellion takes the form of an illicit love affair with Julia, a dark-haired mechanic who repairs the Ministry's novel-writing machines. They meet in a rented room atop an antiques shop, where they think they are safe. Of course, the thought police have read Winston’s journal and have known of his rebellion all along.
They capture Winston and Julia in their bedroom, and they are delivered to the Ministry of Love for interrogation. They are systematically tortured and beaten and “reeducated” for a prolonged period of time. Winston confesses to everything, betrays everything, except his love for Julia, that is his final rebellion. And of course the Thought Police know that also.
They take him to room 101. Room 101 where the prisoner is confronted with his greatest fear. This fear is different for each person obviously, but whatever it is, your worst nightmare, you find it in Room 101. Winston Smith has a deathly fear of rats, so he is confronted with a cage of starving rats, and they tell him that they are going to force his head through a hole in the cage and let the rats eat his face and head. Orwell is an author of great talent. He describes in detail how the thought police place Winston’s face against the side of the cage and the rats are seething against the cage, trying to get to him and the police force his head toward the hole, and he breaks totally. He gives up. He betrays Julia. He is completely reeducated. He loves Big Brother.
As you can see, 1984 does not have a happy ending. George Orwell hated tyranny. He wanted us to be aware of how far a totalitarian state might go and thus of how vigilant we must be to resist all tyranny.
Having said that, he raises an interesting question with room 101. What is the thing you are most afraid of?
That brings us to Job.
The book of Job is kind of the outlaw book of the OT. It says some things that we know are true, but that we do not really want to talk about. The theology of the book of Job blows our minds. The devil walks around heaven and talks with God. When did that happen? God and the devil are pictured as two good old boys, sitting around drinking mint juleps—or ice tea if you prefer—making bets on the morality, or lack thereof, of lesser beings. That reminds me of a story Mark Twain wrote about frogs—about how people would gather up frogs and line them up and see which frog would jump the best.
God said to Satan, have you considered my frog—I mean my man--Job. He is the best man there is. Satan said, Nah, if you put him to the test, he will spit in your face. That is in chapter 1, the rest of the book is about the testing of Job.
As I said, the book asks some hard questions. One question is, why do bad things happen to good people?
Job was a good man, and he had prospered in everyway possible in that time. He had lots of children. He had lots of sheep, camels, donkeys, and slaves, vast estates. He was the great man of his time and place. Then the testing comes. He loses everything. His children are killed. Bedouin raiders carry off his animals and kill his slaves. His house burns to the ground. In a single day, the great man becomes a beggar. But he does not give up on God. He says, “Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21).
So God said to the devil, I win. My guy is the best.
Satan said, Nah. That was not a test. That was just a preliminary. Take away his health, and he will spit in your face. And God said, Let’s do it and we will see. Now as I said earlier the theology of the book of Job is troubling. We cannot imagine the loving God whom Jesus taught us about doing this kind of thing--playing games with peoples lives, but that is what the book says in effect and we have to go with what it says. So the test is made. Job is afflicted with an painful and ugly skin disease.
About this time, in chapter 2, three friends of Job show up. They claim that they have come to comfort and console Job, but they don’t offer much in the way of comfort and consolation. They throw dust in the air and weep aloud, as if they were mourning for the dead.
In chapter 3 Job makes a speech. The speech is about his situation, and Job does not pull any punches. His situation sucks, and that is what he says.
V3, “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.”
V11, “Why died I not from the womb? why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly?”
V25, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.”
That may verse may reveal something about Job that Satan knew all along. When Job had been the great man, with all the blessings of God, he had a secret fear. The nature of this fear is not entirely spelled out for us. It may have been that he would lose his health. It may have been that he would lose everything. Whatever it was, Satan thought that when Job was confronted with this great fear, he would curse God and die. Satan would bring Job to Orwell’s room 101 and Job would betray God just as Winston Smith betrayed Julia.
But in fact the book of Job does not end like 1984. I said earlier that one of the questions of Job is why do bad things happen to good people. That question is never actually answered in Job, but a question that is answered is what do you do when bad things happen to you. Job never gave up. He kept the faith. Now if you read the book, you realize that Job had plenty of questions, and when his friends offer him simplistic explanations for his situation, he basically tells them that they do not have a clue. But ultimately, even though he has doubts and questions, even though he cannot see God in his situation, he believes anyway.
Which brings us again to our room 101. What is your greatest fear? Being eaten by a horde of starving rats. That certainly would be pretty high on my list.
Fear is described as an emotional response to a perceived threat. It does not matter whether the threat is real, if we perceive it as real, we have a fear response. We have several words to describe that response: terror, panic, dread, horror. Some would say death is the greatest fear. Others say that it is not death itself but the pain of dying, that is the greatest fear. For others it might be something else altogether. Some people are horrified by the thought of being trapped in a small place, some are equally horrified about being trapped in an open space. Some people are deathly afraid of heights. Others are afraid of people, still others are afraid of being alone.
When a fear becomes so intense and persisitent that it interferes with a person’s life, we call it a phobia. You might be interested to know that according to studies conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, between 8% and 18% (depending on how you interpret the study data) of the population of the United States suffers from some kind of phobia.
The thing that they greatly feared has come upon them. You might respond that in Job’s case he has reason for his phobia, since his situation cannot get much worse. Job says that even death would be an improvement. So how does he handle that situation?
We say, in our modern age, that a person with a phobia should get treatment, psychological help, and I agree. We should use all the resources we have to help people, but you should know that studies on this subject indicate faith is pretty good medicine.
We need to handle our life with faith.
We need to handle every situation with faith.
That does not mean that we should stupidly say that everything is all right when everything is obviously not all right. When Job was being tested, he never said that the testing was good. He did not like losing his family, his money, his health, but he realized that the best thing he could do was to believe anyway.
This reminds me of a story I read about a group of Jews in a Nazi concentration camp. This was a rabbi and most of his congregation. The question came up: why has God allowed this to happen? So the group of Jews decided to have a trial of God. They convened a court. The charge against God was that he had abandoned his people. They brought forth their evidence, that they were being slaughtered by the millions in Nazi gas chambers. And they found God guilty. God had abandoned his people. According to the story, the rabbi then said, it is sunset and the beginning of the Sabbath, so we need to have our regular worship service now, and they did.
Their situation was pretty much like Job’s situation, and their only response was to believe anyway. Now I suspect that most of us are not in Job’s extreme situation, and we are certainly not in concentration camps, but we do have fears, phobias, horrors, dreads.
That is your best answer.
Now this answer is like a lot of things that are easier said that done. I said, When you are afraid you need to have faith. You might respond, that is what everybody says, that is not new or profound. And maybe it is not. In a tough situation, everyone says, Have faith, keep on keeping on, see it through. But just because everyone says it, does not mean it is wrong.
I think the trick though is in the application.
Some therapists use this approach. Say you have this phobia, you have this deep set fear. It is too big, too ingrown into your personality to go away just because someone says have faith. So the practical technique is to have faith for one day, or if that is too much for one hour. The saying is, for some people their fear is like a huge bush and their faith is like a little pair of scissors. You cannot chop down the bush with those scissors, but you can trim off some leaves, so do what you can, have what faith you can and work from that.
And when you start exercising your faith, you will find that your faith grows. Suddenly your faith is not a pair of scissors but a pair of shears, and if you keep at it, your faith eventually becomes an chainsaw that can chop down every fear.
So start using your faith. That is the whole key. Faith is not just something to talk about in church it is something to use in real life.
And you might examine yourself somewhat on this to see how you stand in the application of faith. What if someone recorded your daily conversation, made a big chart, with 2 columns.
In one column is listed all the “worry” words that you said that day: “I do not know if we can do this.” “I do not know if this is going to work.” “Something bad is going to happen.” Things liked that. In the other column, they list all your faith words. “We can do it.” “This is going to happen.” “We are going to make it happen.”
Now the question for you is, if someone made of your conversation, a chart of worry words versus faith words, which column would be the longest? Maybe it is time to start actually applying what the Bible says--living less in worry and living more in faith.
If Job could believe, If many others in desperate conditions could believe, what is wrong with us? Believe, keep on believing, never stop believing.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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