Mar 31, 11
Read from March 25 to 31, 2011
Since the horror of her experience at Shechem, when her brothers bathed a city in blood in the name of honor, Jacob’s only daughter Dinah has lived under an oppressive cloud of shame. A virtual outcast in her own family, Dinah’s knowledge of healing and herb lore earns her a place as her grandfather Isaac’s nurse. But from his deathbed, Isaac sends Dinah’s future down a path she never expected by ordering her to marry into Esau’s clan. Though regarded as a fallen woman, Dinah is covered by the covenant promise bestowed on her father’s line – a promise that through marriage she could bless her uncle’s family. Only one man from Esau’s clan steps forward to honor Isaac’s wish – Job, the wisest man in the East, offers his oldest son in marriage. On the journey to Job’s home, Dinah is awed by this righteous man’s ability to look beyond the rumors and accept her as she is, in spite of her past. Job’s desire to see Dinah restored, if only she’ll have the faith to accept Yahweh’s forgiveness, plants the first seeds of hope in Dinah that she might have a future free of condemnation.
But shortly after their arrival, Dinah’s hard-won hope and fragile faith are tested as her newfound friend and benefactor loses everything. Overnight, Job is stripped of family, wealth, and servants, and when his household and riches are reduced to rubble, the man himself falls prey to a crippling illness. Covered in painful sores, with his very flesh decaying before his eyes, Job is reduced to living in piles of filth and waste, sustained by Dinah’s healing knowledge of herbs. Through the horrifying reality of being brought so low, Job clings to his faith in Yahweh’s greater plan, and Dinah finds fresh purpose as his friend and healer. But when those closest to Job array against him in judgment, Job and Dinah’s tenacious faith is brought to the breaking point. In the face of shattering loss and crippling pain, when all hope seems lost and heaven is silent, can faith and love overcome the weight of unspeakable tragedy?
Love Amid the Ashes fascinated me from the moment I discovered the novel’s premise, and it’s been one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I never considered the possibility that Job lived during the time of the patriarchs, that the man famous for his suffering could be a contemporary of Jacob and Dinah. Mesu Andrews weaves together two lives, shattered by horror, into a breathtaking portrait of God’s never-failing, sustaining grace. Dinah receives all too brief mention in the scriptures, raising more questions than answers when one stops to consider her perspective of Shechem’s destruction. How does one cope with being branded a wanton temptress when as a young girl a mistaken night of passion leaves her hands covered in blood, bereft of any hope of an honorable future? As for Job, Andrews’ portrait of the man’s faith in the midst of crushing sorrow takes one’s breath away. Because of the construction of the Book of Job, it’s been all too easy for me to fall into the trap of forgetting that Job was a living, breathing, fallible human being. Despite the text’s many passionate declarations of faith in the midst of suffering, it’s too easy to forget Job the man and the human suffering that birthed the book’s chronicle of faith in trials. Andrews brilliantly fleshes out Job’s life and character, giving context and emotional resonance to the man that makes his suffering even more compelling and his faith even more inspiring.
Andrews’ debut embodies everything I love about biblical fiction. When an author has a passion and heart for the story, they can take the “dry bones” of well-known and loved biblical characters and imbue the individuals immortalized in the scriptures with the vibrancy of the life they once lived on earth. And that life, that previously unimagined yet now fully realized world they inhabit within the pages of a novel like Love Amid the Ashes makes lives such as Dinah’s and Job’s relatable in a fresh new way. The reality of suffering and trust in a believer’s life is such an individual, very personal thing with which to grapple, and this side of heaven one’s understanding cannot help but be limited by our humanity. As someone who’s struggled with “whys,” I freely admit my own tendency to focus on circumstances, or the emotion of the moment, forgetting the sovereignty of the God who holds my future in His hands. Andrews’ beautifully realized, heartfelt portrait of Job and Dinah is a powerful, inspiring reminder of the fact that my God transcends the whys, and when it seems that no answers are forthcoming, that doesn’t mean that He holds me any less securely in the palm of His hand.
Love Amid the Ashes shines with Mesu Andrews’ passion for scripture, and her lovingly crafted portrait of Job’s life cannot fail to inspire a deeper appreciation and study of the biblical text. This is a humbling, challenging novel, and I pray that no matter what your situation, you’ll be reminded of God’s ability to bring beauty from ashes. Hope endures, God’s love never fails, and my Redeemer lives – let the story of Love Amid the Ashes take root in your soul, and take heart. Circumstances may devastate, people may fail you, but God never changes.