Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Christopher Ash, director of the Cornhill Training Course, London, has recently published a new commentary on Job in the Preaching the Word series: Job: the Wisdom of the Cross (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014). I encourage you to use this excellent commentary in your devotional reading (when you reach Job as you read through the Bible) and also for your preparation for preaching and/or teaching through Job.
Ash was recently interviewed about this work. I include a few key questions and responses from this exchange.
Ash was initially asked about the contemporary heresies of the prosperity gospel, which promises that coming to faith in Christ means riches, health and wealth, and the therapeutic gospel, which promises that that being a disciple of Christ means the Lord will give me subjective benefits of happiness and making me feel better about myself. In response Ash concludes, “Job pulls the rug out from under both these gospel distortions. It sets before us a conspicuously righteous man (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3) who suffers prolonged and intense loss and grief, the very opposite of what these gospel distortions would lead us to expect.”
When reading and interpreting Job, Ash concludes that he could not be like any one of us, a representative man. The interviewer, noting Ash’s conclusion, states that Job’s “suffering and trials are in a class by themselves. What role does Job play in the drama of the human story?”
Yes, indeed, it seems to me that Job cannot be “everyman” for several reasons. He is exceptionally righteous (1:1,8; 2:3), exceedingly great and successful (1:3), and his sufferings are intensely deep (1:6-2:10). Far from being a picture of human suffering in general, the book tells the story of a unique man suffering with unmatched intensity. In the big sweep of the bible story it is very natural therefore to see him as foreshadowing Jesus Christ, the one absolutely righteous man on earth, the greatest human being who has lived, and the one whose sufferings were uniquely deep and grievous. Job in his extremity helps us understand Jesus in his uniqueness. Only then may we legitimately see Job as prefiguring our experience in any way, as those indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus and experiencing in our lives some measure of suffering with him (e.g. Rom.8:17; Col.1:24).
Ash’s thesis statement throughout the commentary is as follows: “the glory of God is more important than your or my comfort.” He was asked why this is and why this is actually good news.
Yes, I was greatly helped by 1 Peter 1:7 as I grappled with Job. Writing to suffering Christians, Peter says that the “various trials” they are enduring will show the “tested genuineness” of their faith. That is to say, the trials will prove that they really trust God; it is easy to say we trust God when things are going well; it is when blessings are taken away that it is seen whether we really worship God simply because He is God. When we do and our faith is seen to be tested and genuine then, when Jesus returns, there will be “praise and glory and honour” to God. It is good news to know that your and my Christian sufferings have such an exalted purpose; that our sufferings will prove that in our hearts we honour God as God. Only when we suffer can this be publicly and convincingly seen to the watching world.
One of the challenges in Job is understanding how to read, interpret and apply the messages of Job’s (so-called) friends and comforters. Ash gives some helpful guidance.
The comforters say many true things – true things about God, true things about justice, true things about sin and judgment. But they are not true of Job. The critical thing they deny is the possibility of unjust suffering, and therefore the flip-side of this, which is the possibility of undeserved blessing, or grace. I have included an introductory chapter about the comforters’ theology, and in the various speeches have suggested what we can learn from them. One of the main things I have learned is to be warned, because it is so easy for our Christian culture to slip into a Job’s comforters culture, and for grace to slip out of the window.
Anyone who reads Job knows the book ends with God never answered Job’s questions. In fact, God is the one who asks questions of Job. God never answered Job and he never explained to Job why he suffered. How is this to be understood?
Job has spoken as if he could run God’s world better than God. God’s speeches focus first on the wild parts of the universe, the parts that are clearly outside Job’s control. And then finally on this strange and terrifying monster, serpent, beast called Leviathan (Job 41), who is a vivid storybook way of speaking of the devil or Satan. The central message is that God alone may be trusted to be sovereign even over supernatural forces of evil in the universe. This is a huge claim, that there truly is one Sovereign God who rules the universe and is so great and wise that he can even use supernatural evil as one of his agents in governing the world. The devil is, in Luther’s vivid phrase, “God’s Satan”.