Into the Fire by Jeffrey S. Savage
Reviewed by Jennie Hansen
“There was a man in the valley of microchips and disks, whose name was Joe; and that man, like most of us, was trying to do what was right.” So begins Jeffrey S. Savages’s contemporary, allegorical Book of Job, Into the Fire.
Job is one of the most disturbing books of the Old Testament, one that few people claim as their “favorite.” Even so, more of us probably identify with Job more than with any other Old Testament prophet, especially during difficult times. Is there a person who hasn’t asked, “Why me?” when he or she has been trying their best to do what is right and have suffered physical or emotional disasters they didn’t deserve? Though we accept the concept that our mortal life is a time of testing, a time when we are caught in a tug-of-war between Satan and God to prove ourselves worthy of the great blessings God promises the faithful, the Book of Job begins with a bargain being struck between God and the devil that sets many people’s teeth on edge. A casual reading of the scriptural account also raises hackles at the suggestion that Job’s lost family members were simply replaced by a new family. A careful reading of this story points out a deeper, far more sensitive tale. It is these deeper values Jeffrey Savage’s Joe/Job brings to the reader’s attention.
Joe is a hard working, intelligent man who founded a major computer company, reaping fantastic monetary rewards as the company expanded, then went public. He and his wife and three children live in a dream home, drive luxury cars, have good friends in their ward, and are respected leaders in their community. When the bottom begins to drop out of the dot com world, Joe raises the money through loans and by mortgaging their home to keep his company alive and the value of its stock from driving the company to bankruptcy. He has the business savvy to ride out the storm, but disaster strikes on every side. An accusation is made that he infringed on a copyright and as his integrity is questioned by the people in his company, he discovers that since the company is now in the public domain and has a board of directors, that board can fire him, which they do.
Unjustly accused of wrong-doing, out of work, and facing the very real prospect that the scandal will devalue the company’s stock and send its price to the bottom of the basement which would result in the loss of his house, Joe makes a trip to see his accountant to try to save his home. His effort turns into a nightmare as he learns his accountant, who has long been his friend and belongs to his priesthood quorum, washes his hands of him, saying he can’t afford to risk losing his other customers by continuing to represent Joe. His wife slides into a deep depression she’d only recently begun to emerge from following cancer treatment; his son, Richie, becomes involved with sub-culture friends and their lifestyle, his older daughter decides she no longer wants anything to do with the Church, and only his six-year-old Downs Syndrome daughter, Angela, continues on her innocent course. Only she seems to be protected from the machinations of the Tempter.
In a desperate move to at least save his family, he drives them to an isolated mountain cabin his father left to him, but which hasn’t been occupied for ten years or more. His daughter’s attempt to leave the isolated place results in the car keys being lost in the lake. Here Joe begins to learn the lessons of Job. The Lord controls the laws of nature-and He rules in terrible majesty. When all those temporal belongings such as houses and money are gone, when Joe’s good name is taken and his friends turn their backs and doubt his integrity; when even his family considers him a fool to continue to trust in God, there is still more suffering heaped on Joe. A rash turns out to be a tick bite and he suffers the blinding headaches, mental confusion, back ache and assorted other pains of Lymes disease; his wife retreats so far into dense depression he fears for her sanity, and his two older children become strangers. His faith in God and his intense love for his family are all he has left.
Between his illness and his intense quest for an answer to his prayers, Joe experiences a series of strange experiences that hover in that area between spiritual manifestation and feverish hallucination. Brother Savage leaves the reader to differentiate between the two to his own satisfaction.
While Job lost his family through a terrible accident, Joe sees his family slipping away both spiritually and physically a little bit at a time. He exerts every drop of his strength both physically and spiritually to save them and learns that his former wealth was a blessing from God, but his greatest blessing, his family are what he values most. He does a great deal of soul searching, asking whether the calamities that have befallen him are his fault. He questions his own failings rather than blame God for all that has gone wrong. He learns the ultimate lesson of Job, that though Satan may try him and his own prayers may beseech God’s blessings and seem to fall on deaf ears, true faith acknowledges God’s will in all things.
Satan entices Joe with a return to his former comfortable level of living, but Joe recognizes the lie behind the promise. Only God’s promises can be trusted.
Into the Fire is an incredible book. The writing of it left the author both emotionally and physically drained. It does the same for the reader. Brother Savage is a gifted writer who knows the art of building tension. His own strong testimony that has been tried through his own bouts with the Refiner’s Fire, shines through. His male characters are particularly well-developed, as is that of the young handicapped daughter, but the other female characters are a little thin. Neither the wife, Heather, nor the eighteen-year-old daughter, Debbie, come through as clearly as they might have. Granted the story is Joe’s, and to be true to the biblical account it was necessary to take Heather as much out of the picture as was Job’s wife, still I would have liked to know her and Debbie as well as I came to know and care about Richie and Angela.
Reading Into the Fire sent me back to the Old Testament more than once to check it against the original. The modern account Brother Savage offers matches the original far more closely than might be expected. The modern events vary from those of the biblical account, of course, in all the ways today is different from Old Testament times, but the trials and the lessons learned are the same and highly accurate. It also provides some insights I had previously missed in the account of a man who lost everything but his faith, but through that faith and commitment to God, gained an even greater fortune that had nothing to do with the number of sheep and camels he could number among his possessions.
2002Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.