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Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers (Book Review)

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers Book Review
Image Credit:  Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers Press Kit

Redeeming Love . . . the movie is out and everybody is talking about it.  Well, almost every woman I know is talking about it.  I wasn't aware of this new movie until a few friends expressed interest in seeing it.  When I asked them about it, they told me the basics.  It's a story based on the book of Hosea in the Old Testament section of the Bible.  It's a love story written by Francine Rivers.  I mentioned that before I see the movie, I would like to read the book so a friend loaned me the book, but before I began to read the novel by Francine Rivers, I decided that I had better read the original historical event from the Bible itself first.  So I did.

I was disappointed.  Now, it grieves me to say I was disappointed in a book of the Bible.  That sounds downright shameful so let me explain.  

I have to first admit that I had never actually studied the book of Hosea.  I had read parts of it here and there when pastors or Bible study leaders had referred to it.  However, I had never actually studied it.  I expected to read 14 chapters of an amazing love story detailing the relationship of a fallen Gomer who marries Godly Hosea.  

Nope.

Let me say this.  The biblical book of Hosea is not a love story.  The relationship between Hosea and Gomer is only briefly described.  The book is about God's frustration and anger toward Israel.  God tells Hosea to go marry a prostitute named Gomer.  The relationship between the two represents the relationship between God and Israel.  

Hosea marries Gomer out of obedience.  She leaves him to return to prostitution several times.  At one point, Hosea buys her back.  We really don't know much more than that.  We don't know if Hosea ever actually falls in love with Gomer and there is nothing about the Biblical story to tell us that she ever falls in love with him.  God tells Hosea to marry her.  He does.  She leaves him several times.  He brings her home.  They have kids.  God tells Hosea to show love to Gomer but showing love is not the same as falling in love.  We really just don't know.

Gomer's habit of leaving Hosea in spite of his provision for her is representation of Israel's habit of leaving God to worship false gods in spite of His provision for them.  

The book of Hosea describes God's anger with Israel and His plan to bring them back to Him.  He will allow suffering.  He will allow the Assyrian army to overtake them.  He will allow them misery such that they will eventually return to Him.  There are fourteen chapters describing this.  You can read the entire book here at Bible Gateway.

The Biblical book of Hosea describes God's plan to allow Israel so suffer so that Israel will return to Him.  The relationship between Hosea and Gomer is a representation of the relationship between God and Israel.  Given this information, we might ASSUME that Gomer eventually is faithful to Hosea but we are not given this information in the Biblical book of Hosea.  We have no idea.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

On the back cover of the novel, it reads:

A powerful retelling of the story of Gomer and Hosea, Redeeming Love is a life-changing story of God's unconditional, redemptive, all-consuming love.

The novel, Redeeming Love, is NOT a retelling of the story of Gomer and Hosea of the Bible.  It simply is not.  They are two very different stories.  The rest of that claim is true.  The story of Angel and Hosea of the Francine Rivers novel IS a story of God's unconditional, redemptive, all-consuming love.

Now before you accuse me of nit-picking, I'm not nit-picking and here's why.

God's Word is holy.  It is true.  It is living and active.  It was written by human men but inspired by a holy and just God.  It is never to be misrepresented. Never.

I don't think Francine intended to misrepresent the Bible.  I think she read the Biblical account and it inspired her to write this novel.  There is nothing wrong with that but we, as Christians, are to be vessels of truth so when we see that something in the Bible is not truthfully represented, we need to point that out and take heed.

God's love is unconditional, redemptive, and all-consuming BUT God is also just.  He will not stand for His Word to be misrepresented so just take note of the fact that this novel (as beautiful as it is) is not a retelling of the Biblical story of Hosea and Gomer.

I mentioned that Redeeming Love, the novel, is beautiful and it is.  I did like the book and I do recommend it.  I'll get to the things I do like about it later but first, I think it is important to point out another problem.

God would never have called a saved-by-the-blood Michael Hosea to marry unsaved Angel and here's why.

God will never call someone to do something that contradicts His Word.  

Do not be mismatched with unbelievers for what do righteousness and lawlessness share together, or what does light have in common with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14

God, in His Word, tells Christians not to marry a non-Christian.  He will not call someone to do something opposite His Word so He would never have called Michael Hosea to marry Angel.  

How do we know Angel is not a Christian?  Because she rejects God and anything to do with Him her entire life.  

Christians and non-Christians do often marry.  Once they do, they have created a covenant together before God so that covenant is not to be broken.  It is to be God-honoring.  There are certain circumstances where someone may be released from this covenant such as in the instance of abuse or infidelity.  However, God will not call someone to an action that contradicts His Word.

Marriage in the days of the Biblical Hosea and Gomer was handled differently.  Hosea and Gomer were under Old Testament Law.  They didn't yet have the book of 2 Corinthians.  The story of Michael Hosea and Angel in Francine Rivers' novel takes place in the early 1800s.  Michael Hosea and Angel are accountable to 2 Corinthians 6:14.

Now that I've gotten those two things out in the open, I'll tell you why I liked Redeeming Love and I think you will too.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers Book Review
Get your copy here.

The rest of my review may contain spoilers - just so you know.

Francine Rivers does not hold anything back.  This novel, as beautiful as the story is (now that we've separated it from the Biblical story and assumed that Michael had not understood 2 Corinthians 6:14) is not easy to read in some places.  It's hard.  Angel, unlike Gomer, is a victim of sex-trafficking. She didn't get to the age of 22 and decide that she likes sex and realizes she can make money doing it.  She was sold into prostitution as a child at the age of 8.  

She is 8 years old.  She is sold to man who has a thing for little girls.  Let that sink in.

Once sold in, she can't just leave.  She is trapped and the only likely way out is death.  She is used and abused brutally her whole life.  

Angel had been born out of wedlock which was not well taken in those days. Her mother had an affair with a rich married man.  At the news of the pregnancy, Angel's father wanted her aborted.  Her mother kept Sarah (Angel's birth name) and loved her.  Angel's father had kept them in a cottage where he would make regular visits to her mother but eventually he deserted them.  Sarah and her mother had to move several times.  Sarah's grandparents wouldn't take them in.  They ended up in a shack where her mother became a prostitute to make money for food and shelter.  

Angel's life is hell on earth until Michael Hosea rescues her.  

Michael takes her to his farm.  Angel's past haunts her.  She doesn't know Michael.  She doesn't trust him.  In her mind, he owns her just like every man she has ever known.  

Michael loves her anyway.  

She leaves.  He goes after her and brings her back.

This is the beautiful part of this novel and for many, many chapters from this point on, I couldn't put it down.  Michael Hosea represents God's unconditional, unwavering, all-consuming, REDEEMING LOVE for us. Angel represents our sinful human nature that is constantly fighting the urge to run away from the God we love . . . and sometimes we do.  Like Michael brought Angel home, God is continuously reaching out to us to bring us home.  

At the end, after Angel's final run away, Michael doesn't go after her.  He wants her to return on her own.  During Angel's last "adventure," she finds her faith in the God that Michael had so faithfully tried to show her.  God shows Angel something He wants her to do.  In obedience, she starts a ministry of sort to help girls who are just like her.  She teaches them to read, write, cook, and sew.  Then, with the help of local churches, the girls are placed in jobs where they can make a living free of prostitution.  

Eventually, Angel returns to Michael.  She tells him her birth name is Sarah and they start all over.  

Now, I have to complain again.  At the end of the story, when Angel returns home, she approaches Michael's farm.  She sees Michael working outside. As she approaches him, the husband she hasn't seen or heard from in three years, she begans taking off her clothes.  After about 460 pages of traveling with Angel on her journey to redemption, she strips outside as she approaches the husband she left three years before.  I know he's her husband but they have not seen each other since.  No communication.  No letters.  Nothing.  Michael doesn't even know where she is for three years but she strips as she approaches him outside on their farm.  To me, this makes her seem cheap again.  Why not have her approach him with her clothes on?  Have them TALK for at least a hot minute about this situation first.  Save the stripping for inside the cabin at least a few minutes later. Goodness . . . 

There is a side story throughout the novel that involves Michael's bother-in-law and a family that becomes their neighbor.  The brother-in-law gave my heart grief the entire time.  I couldn't stand him for several reasons.  I had intended to include a piece of my mind about him in this review but in the end, I decided to leave it out.  You'll just have to read the book to get his story.

The very last chapter gives us the rest of the story.  Francine tells us what the future holds for Michael and Sarah.  Redeeming Love is the perfect title for this book.

In conclusion, in spite of the things that bothered me about this book (and some things bothered me a lot), it is indeed a beautiful story of God's redeeming love.   

I wouldn't call this book the best book I've ever read, but I did enjoy most of it because even though there were "flaws," I think Francine's intention is realized and that is to point us to the God who redeems and the story of Michael and Angel really is a beautiful one.

I am getting conflicting opinions about the movie and now that I've read the Biblical account and the novel, I can see why there is controversy.  I do plan to see the movie and I do plan to write a review of it too. 

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers Book Review
Get your copy here.

Personal Application

Are you haunted by sins of your past?  

Here is a truth for you.  God can redeem you too.

No matter what you've done, you are never too far gone for God to reach you.  Your past can't keep Him away.  Like Michael longed for Angel to return home to him, God longs for you to come home to Him.  

He's waiting for you.  

You can learn more about how to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior here.  

It's never too late.  There is no hight, depth, or width that is too high, too deep, or too wide for God.  

Just come home.

PIN ME!

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers Book Review

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers Book Review
The Redemption Series by Karen Kingsbury

While studying the book of Hosea, I used my Beautiful Word Coloring Bible.  I enjoy coloring the designs that are already on the pages, but if you are creative, there is plenty of space throughout the Bible for you to design your own or use the space for journaling and study notes.   I have this version.

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