The Story of Job and the Making of Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Joseph Frank makes this note in the inaugural volume of his widely celebrated literary biography, Dostoevsky: The Seeds of Revolt, 1821-1849 (1979), 54:

Many years later, when Dostoevsky was reading the Book of Job once again — as he had done so many times before — he wrote his wife that it put him into such a state of “unhealthy rapture” that he almost cried. “It’s a strange thing, Anya, this book is one of the first in my life which made an impression on me; I was then still almost a child.”

There is an allusion to this revelatory experience of the young boy in The Brothers Karamazov, where Father Zosima recalls being struck by a reading of the Book of Job at the age of eight, and feeling that “for the first time in my life I consciously received the seed of God’s word in my heart.”

In other words, it is quite possible Zosima’s childhood experience is autobiographical for Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In light of that point, here’s the reference in The Brothers Karamazov, Pevear/Volokhonsky translation (2002), 291:

Mother took me to church by myself (I do not remember where my brother was then), during Holy Week, to the Monday liturgy. It was a clear day, and, remembering it now, I seem to see again the incense rising from the censer and quietly ascending upwards, and from above, through a narrow window in the cupola, God’s rays pouring down upon us in the church, and the incense rising up to them in waves, as if dissolving into them. I looked with deep tenderness, and for the first time in my life I consciously received the first seed of the word of God in my soul.

A young man walked out into the middle of the church with a big book, so big that it seemed to me he even had difficulty carrying it, and he placed it on the analogion, opened it, and began to read, and suddenly, then, for the first time I understood something, for the first time in my life I understood what was read in God’s church.

There was a man in the land of Uz, rightful and pious, and he had so much wealth, so many camels, so many sheep and asses, and his children made merry, and he loved them very much and beseeched God for them: for it may be that they have sinned in their merrymaking. Now Satan goes up before God together with the sons of God, and says to the Lord that he has walked all over the earth and under the earth.

“And have you seen my servant Job?” God asks him.

And God boasted before Satan, pointing to his great and holy servant.

And Satan smiled at God’s words: “Hand him over to me and you shall see that your servant will begin to murmur and will curse your name.”

And God handed over his righteous man, whom he loved so, to Satan, and Satan smote his children and his cattle, and scattered his wealth, all suddenly, as if with divine lightning, and Job rent his garments and threw himself to the ground and cried out: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return into the earth: the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord henceforth and forevermore!”

Fathers and teachers, bear with these tears of mine — for it is as if my whole childhood were rising again before me, and I am breathing now as I breathed then with my eight-year-old little breast, and feel, as I did then, astonishment, confusion, and joy.

How To Be A Bad Facebook Friend


From Christopher Ash, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Crossway, 2014), 428–9:

Job’s friends have a theological scheme, a tidy system, well-swept, well-defined, and entirely satisfying to them. But they have no relationship with the God behind their formulas. There is no wonder, no awe, no longing, no yearning, and no prayer to meet and speak with and hear and see the God of their formulas. They are content with the rules of The System they have invented.

Now some of their statements considered on their own are correct. For example, in 5:13 Eliphaz says that God “catches the wise in their own craftiness”; the clever person will be called to account by God. That is true, and we have seen that Paul quotes Eliphaz with approval in 1 Corinthians 3:19.

But although the friends make some statements that are true, they do not as a whole speak rightly of God because they have no relationship with God, no seeking of God, and no longing for God. For them he is a dead doctrine and an abstract theory.

Job and the Cross

The opening words of Christopher Ash in his forthcoming commentary on Job:

“The grandest book ever written with pen.” So wrote the Victorian essayist Thomas Carlyle about the Old Testament book of Job.

It is a book I have been grappling with for a decade or so. The more I have walked through it and around it, the more deeply convinced I have become that it makes no sense apart from the cross of Christ. That statement would be strictly true of the entire Old Testament, but somehow in Job it seems more sharply and urgently true, for without Jesus the book of Job will be but “the record of an unanswered agony.” It could almost be a commentary on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:18–25.

The book of Job hinges around the contrast, conflict, and tension between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the cross.

Perhaps this is why commentaries that restrict themselves to interpreting the Old Testament in terms of the Old Testament alone find themselves heading up blind alleys. Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture, and the book of Job can only be understood as a part of the whole Biblical canon as it is fulfilled in Christ.

Again and again as I have beaten my head against these puzzling and seemingly intractable texts, it has been the cross of Christ that has shone light on the page. This is not to say that the book is not about Job in his ancient context. Of course it is. But Job’s experiences, Job’s debates, Job’s struggles, Job’s sufferings, and Job’s final blessings all come to fruition in the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ in his life and death and then in his resurrection, ascension, and exaltation at God’s right hand. I hope I can persuade you of this as the exposition walks through every verse of the book.

The 400-page exposition delivers on this promise (hence the flood of effusive endorsements on the cover). Ash has written a marvelous commentary for gospel-minded pastors who are looking for help in navigating the waters of Job while keeping Calvary in view. And it’s a wonderfully nourishing and readable book for any Christian who seeks to see the glory of Christ by studying the life of Job.