The book of Job is considered one of the most challenging Biblical accounts to discern. Part Hebrew poetry, part oral argument, and part treatise on human suffering, the wisdom Job reveals has been dissected by countless scholars, yet the book remains difficult for many to fathom.
For Ivan D. Parke, comprehending Job is all about the reader’s approach. The professor in the Department of Christian Studies at Mississippi College considers Job to be the ultimate study in perseverance.
“We learn in church about the patience of Job,” said Parke, whose new book, “When Life Meets the Soul: Everyday Lessons from the Book of Job” (254 ppg., Morgan James Publishing), hit bookstores Nov. 15. “In James 1:4, God considers it joy when you go through various trials. As a result, you gain perseverance, steadfastness, and endurance.”
“Perseverance is better than patience. There’s a difference. Perseverance is waiting while suffering.”
Parke should know. It took him more than 20 years to write the book, a user’s guide to the intricacies of Job’s turbulent journey. Along the way, Parke endured personal tragedies that impacted the lives of those he holds most dear.
While he was working on the book, Parke’s mother died, and his daughter battled severe manic depression. Witnessing their struggles helped him understand more about the book of Job and, in turn, grow closer to God.
“If you live long enough, you will suffer, you will have heartbreak, you will have disappointment,” said Parke, who co-wrote his first book, “Reclaiming the Real Jesus,” with Larry Garner. “The Lord has toughened me through experiences in life.”
“My mother was a Job. She suffered a lot in her life. My daughter became disabled with depression; then the mania came out. There were lots of tears in our house. But God brought us through that.”
In his book, Parke included their deeply personal stories because “There is purpose in their pain. It makes what they’ve gone through meaningful.”
“When Life Meets the Soul” is easily digestible; almost every page bears a heading, pull quote, or bulleted list. Most of the 25 chapters end with “Thoughts to Ponder,” allowing the reader to carefully consider scripture or other words of wisdom relevant to the given topic before moving to the next subject.
“It’s not a textbook. It’s not a commentary. I didn’t write this book for professors,” he said. “I wrote it for the person in the pew, the everyday follower of the Lord. The book is a casual conversation in style, with illustrations.”
“It’s a thematic walk-through of Job, so you get an essence of the book, along with an application. You can read a chapter in 10 or 15 minutes and incorporate it into your quiet time. You can read a few chapters, put the book aside for a while, and pick up where you left off.”
That’s not to say his work only skims the surface of Job. It takes a deep dive into the book’s mysteries.
“It’s not a watered-down version – it’ll make you think,” Parke said. “It’s substantive, but it’s not so technical that you get lost in what I, as the author, am trying to say. I tried to strike the right balance between being substantive, but not technical.”
Parke’s rigorous study of Job dates back to the early 1990s when, as a doctoral student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he attended a seminar course on the book in Hebrew taught by his future MC colleague and dean of Christian Studies and the Arts, Wayne VanHorn.
“That seminar changed the trajectory of my life,” Parke said. “Job become my favorite book in the Bible.”
A few years later, while living in Denham Springs, Louisiana, Parke volunteered to teach a Sunday School class for young married couples. The topic: wisdom literature of the Old Testament – including Job.
“That was the first time I taught Job in a church setting,” he said. “When you see the light bulb come on and people’s eyes open up, and they say, ‘That makes sense. I can’t wait to read the book of Job,’ that thrilled me.”
Parke has taught the book in church, during retreats, and in the academic setting. Helping others understand Job by writing about it seemed like a logical next step.
“It’s a rich book, and there’s so much going on in it,” he said. “The rationale for my book is to give the reader access to everything that’s in Job in a practical manner.”
Fellow Christian authors have hailed Parke’s work as an invaluable guide to learning what God has to say in Job and to “live an honest, open, faith-filled life, especially in troublesome times.”
Gary Chapman, New York Times bestselling author of “The 5 Love Languages,” said, “We will never understand everything that happens in our lives. ‘When Life Meets the Soul’ gives practical insights needed when we walk through the ‘dark nights of the soul.’”
Another bestselling author, Robert J. Morgan, known for his book, “The Red Sea Rules,” said Parke “brings Job’s lessons right into our situations. Be drawn into this world of encouragement that comes from the heart of scripture.”
Connections to Mississippi College can be found throughout Parke’s book, especially in the opening endorsements section. MC luminaries such as Rhoda Royce, Jerry Rankin, Philip Gunn, Les Hughes, and Gene C. Fant Jr. – among many others – have lent their seal of approval to the tome.
Early returns for “When Life Meets the Soul” have been promising. At various times, it has been listed among the top new releases in the Christian Wisdom and Christian Poetry categories on amazon.com. Readers have flocked to Parke’s book signings at MC’s Leland Speed Library and local churches. He plans on doing more through next Spring.
Parke said he discovered an important truth throughout the writing process: spiritually, he needed to write the book as much as the book needed to be written.
“God taught me I needed to grow as a person through this process,” he said. “I thought I was an expert on Job, but the Lord worked on me and taught me about prayer, patience, and faith. I’m a better prayer as a result.”
“My prayer is that the Lord puts this book in the right hands at the right time. I would love it if I’m an unknown, but through my work, the book of Job becomes even more well known.”
“When Life Meets the Soul” (paperback, $18.99) is available from Morgan James Publishing, at The Cupboard Gifts & Interiors in Clinton, or wherever books are sold.