Out of the Storm: Grappling with God in the Book of Job by Christopher Ash (Leicester: IVP, 2004)
This short book grapples with the big issues in the book of Job which, the author tells us, is about God. “This ought not to surprise us,” he writes, “but it is easy to forget. If we take our eye off the central focus and major instead on suffering, we shall be disappointed – for we do not find in Job the answers to the questions we have chosen to pose” (page 109). This is a healthy corrective to the idea that reading and studying a 42-chapter book of the Old Testament is the best prescription for those who are undergoing painful suffering because it gives us all the answers to it. All the same, I read this book at a time when the Asian tsunami had struck and some friends had just lost a young baby, and I found here much helpful material to put those and other tragedies into biblical perspective, as well as help on how to speak to people about such horrific occurrences. I also found a book which takes the agonising struggles of our messy and often unhappy lives seriously without resorting to pious clichés or platitudes.
In 11 expository chapters (based on sermons delivered before he became the new Director of the Cornhill Training Course) Christopher Ash takes us through Job in easy to read and short-ish chapters which could be read alongside the biblical text itself in daily quiet times, or instead of Eastenders. One of the great strengths of this book is the fact that it lingers on the central section of Job (chapters 4-37), which can be skated over in more superficial treatments. There must be a reason why God gave us such a long section in-between the disasters of 1-3 and the denouement of 38-42. These are not comfortable chapters of course, but it is valuable to have them dealt with in this way.
There are some excellent illustrations and applications throughout the book. As part of wisdom literature, Job is often read by those seeking “wisdom” and a deeper understanding of the complexities of life. Yet we are warned here not to seek any wisdom for its own sake alone as this merely puffs us up. “So do not seek Wisdom; seek the Lord” (page 73). Ash has some interesting thoughts on the place of the original angry young man, Elihu, in Job 32-37. I warmed to the idea that he could be “a type of the puzzled believer, mixed both in motives and tone, mixed also in theology, and yet set before us as one who is on the way to wisdom” (page 88). In many ways that makes him a ‘type’ of us and many preachers of the book of Job.
There are some minor errors in the book, including the mistaken idea that Jesus called Satan “the god of this world” (page 95). In 2 Corinthians 4:4 the phrase “god of this age” is used (probably referring to Satan but not necessarily), and in John’s Gospel Jesus calls Satan “the prince [or ruler] of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 etc), which probably accounts for the confusion. In this reviewer’s opinion, the font size of the Bible text is too small, which sadly encourages the reader to skip over the quotations from Job itself (and also the poems which are occasionally cited). Occasionally I found the style a tiny bit cumbersome such as on page 104 where we are told that “directed, prayer-filled waiting is the integrating arrow of hope that holds together the authentic Christian life.” I’m still trying to work out what is “integrating” about an arrow but, needless to say, these are only small quibbles which could be sorted out in further (well-deserved) reprints of this very useful volume.
This review was first published in Churchman 119.4 (2005).