Christopher Ash’s commentary on Job is extraordinary.
Here are five reasons why you should read it:
- It’s satisfyingly long. I’m actually a bit suspicious of books on suffering that are short because the answers aren’t easy. Just like Ash, I’ve heard a sermon series on Job shrunk to three or four weeks. “But God has given us forty two chapters!” The problem of Job’s pain cannot be shrunk to a postcard or a tweet. Ash says, “We need to read it, read it all, read it slowly.”
- You will dig deeper into a book of the Bible. And what a book of the Bible! There are so many questions I have about suffering that I long to have answered. Mine has been the last light on in a dark house, Ash’s book in my hand, while my family sleeps. I keep a conversation going with myself, with Ash, and with God through my purple spirax notebook. I've cried, I've said, “Ah hah!” I've copied down perfect phrases longing to hold that difficult explanation for why God allows all this to happen to his friend, Job - to a good, God fearing man - long enough before it slips out of my hands again.
- You will face your fears. Job is a terrifying read. It is no exaggeration to say I've picked up Ash’s solid white hardback with a sharp intake of breath, reading the New Testament verse on my bookmark for courage. It’s bleak. And still, Ash’s writing is so good, so personal - I laughed out loud during one of the bleakest chapters when he writes about wondering whether his computer is demon possessed. I could so relate. Ash handles the reader well. He handles Job well. And he puts together a convincing case that the book of Job makes no sense outside of the cross of Christ. This is both the landing strip and the lamp in your hand as you enter the shocking prose and gut wrenching poetry of Job. And Ash gets us there.
- Job is not always handled well. His friends' speeches are confusing, some of what they say is right but their tone is arrogant. How do we understand Job as part of the whole Biblical canon that finds fulfilment in Christ? Ash is such a helpful guide! It made me excited (and scared) to look at the book of Job in my women’s Bible Study group. I’m a bit afraid of poetry, and Job is 95% poetry, but I am less so after reading Ash’s treatment. Ash emphasises the personal nature of poems and the need to spend time absorbing them “into your bloodstream”. Poems “are always a personal ‘take’ on something, communicating not just from head to head but from heart to heart.” (J. I. Packer) Ash writes, “We need to let a poem get to work on us.” And I do desperately want to let God’s word - through the poetry of Job - work on me.
- You will learn to weep with those who weep. I fellowship with people in real pain. And I bet you do to too. Women who have lost children, many of them young, some of them in horrific ways. Some, like me, have lost a sibling in childhood or as a young adult. Some have family members in prison. Some have been abused. Some suffer from addiction. Some have battled cancer or are battling it right now. People will tell you their sad story when you tell them yours. And that is a great privilege and responsibility. Job is not just about suffering well. It is also about being a good friend and what absolutely not to do. Read it. We are all walking around with so much pain. Staggering through a broken life. And we need each other.
Why I wanted to read Ash’s book
On the 4th of May, 2007 my world changed forever. I was in Dick Smith Electronics on the ground floor of a Westfield with my brother Dave when I got the call. Our little brother had gone to the GP with mum that morning. He had a cold he couldn’t shake. From there he’d gone to emergency at Prince of Wales Hospital where they admitted him straightaway. Now he was in a hospital bed about to have a lumbar puncture. I didn’t know what that was at the time. But from this vantage point I can picture him: my tall, handsome teenage brother. Fit and suntanned from a childhood mucking about on Bronte Beach. The odd gold streak in his straight brown hair. His lovely easy manner. In totally alien circumstances now, wearing a backless white hospital gown, curled up in the fetal position, holding incredibly still, while a doctor inserts a large hollow needle through the skin in his lower back. The procedure takes almost twenty minutes as the needle passes carefully between the vertebrae and into the spinal canal collecting fluid. “It looks like he’s got leukemia,” my Dad says. He was seventeen.
The casualness of that afternoon evaporates. Filled with urgency, we run, my other brother and I, through the shops. Shoppers shopped, the world kept turning, but our world was spinning on a different axis.
Over the next few weeks I hope to explore answers to questions I’ve carried around with me for almost seven years. There is a sense in which the book of Job, possibly the oldest book of the Bible, is all of our stories. And a sense in which it is not. It is a story of extremes. It is utterly epic and extremely human. It is about a blameless man suffering, flung onto the rubbish tip. But more than that it is about a God, our God, who is at the heart of the universe, who provides surprising answers to our ultimate questions and restores Job so lovingly in the end. I hope you will be glued for every second.
About this month’s contributor, Katie Stringer
Katie loves writing and has had snippets published in Womankind Magazine and the Guardian Weekly. She is working on a book about her brother. She leads a Bible Study at her local Anglican church, All Souls Leichhardt and loves being part of the Leichhardt community. She is married to Andrew and they have two daughters and a son.