Monday, January 04, 2010

Redeeming Love

I Read It!I'm going to have to retrain myself to the new 5 Minutes for Books carnival schedule. If you haven't yet made the change in your own mind, we've moved the I Read It carnival to the first Tuesday of the month (tomorrow) and instead of just writing posts about books you've read that the team suggested -we're opening it up a bit. The I Read It carnival is open to all blogger suggestions. So, if you took the reading suggested of any blogger in the blog-o-sphere or received a book gift from a relative that you want to mention, write up a review and link back to our I Read It carnival (tomorrow ;) - just consider this your reminder!). We're excited to make this a more community oriented event and hope you'll join in so that the recommendations can travel around to your blogs and we'll be inspired to read new things.

That introduction aside, I'm going to talk about a book that I haven't really seen reviewed very thoroughly, but one that "everyone" has recommended that I read. For awhile there, I didn't think I would be able to write about it either. But Barbara H. asked if I'd consider it and so I've been thinking through it a bit more.

Let me start of by saying that, in general, I am not a big fan of Christian fiction because I think it lacks imagination and creativity and many authors write predictable stories with lots of pop culture references and mimic the world's writing style. Harsh, I know! But it's what I think. There are a few Christian authors that have ever captured my attention and they've mostly done so by writing something that is fresh and unique. Good story tellers prove themselves and for all the ones I do not like, Francine Rivers I do.

The only other book I've read by Francine Rivers is The Last Sin Eater and I made the mistake of watching the movie before I read the book. (Never do that.) It kind of spoiled the book for me a bit because I already knew what was going to happen. (The flip side to that story is that the movie was so well done and true to the book that I had no complaints on that score!) Beyond that, Rivers has eluded me. But no more. Oh no more! Give me a button and a badge. Maybe even a t-shirt. I'll wear it. I'm hooked - with exception (explained below).

For anyone who is not aware of what Redeeming Love is all about, it is a retelling of the book of Hosea. Only that's a simple explanation and the only one I've ever been given. This book is simply horrific, and it probably focuses the most heavily on Hosea, Chapters 3 and 14 in unveiling the story of a prostitute who Rivers gives the name of "Angel"to in her book. Angel was sold into prostitution at the age of eight. The story is set in the 1850's during the California Gold Rush when men were flocking west and were in want of a little, er, company. Our upstanding man of honor in this book is named Michael Hosea and when God tells him that he is going to marry Angel, Michael is in disbelief. He has spent his life waiting for the perfect woman who has waited in faithfulness to give herself to the man she marries. He has been equally faithful and this story documents Michael's journey of frustration and love as he takes Angel as a wife and loves her with the love of Christ (i.e., in unfailing fashion, even though it wounds him).

Now, I had previously said I wasn't going to talk about this book online. Not because I didn't want to, rather, mostly because I couldn't. This story seeped in to me and left me feeling ...odd. I've also previously questioned whether we are doing good by re-writing scriptures as fictional "modern day" tales. I don't know whether this habit or practice is good or bad. I think only time can tell. (For example, I read Journey to the Well and enjoyed the story but there's a nagging doubt in the back of my mind which refuses to allow me to just accept the stories as stories.) That probably has to do with the fact that stories like Journey to the Well and Redeeming Love are taking liberties with scripture, which is sacred, perfect and complete in and of itself. God doesn't need our help in telling His story. But does He allow for our creativity in this particularly way in which the authors sort of elaborate the facts? And in what way will this effect future generations of Christians, readers and Christian readers? We don't know that yet as this particular style of writing seems to be a new trend. So I tread lightly and cautiously, unconvinced in either direction. (You can feel free to argue your point below if you would like.)

That said, Redeeming Love moved me internally. I read the introductory letter from Donald C. Jacobson, President & Publisher at Multnomah Publishers talking about how he sobbed as he read through this manuscript and I wondered exactly what I was getting myself into! The story of Angel is horrific. If the topic of sex trafficking bothers you, this book will bother you. But it is meant to bother you. It's detailed enough to paint an excruciating and accurate image, giving it a more PG-13 rating (as given by Jacobson). At the same time, Rivers closes the doors on complete scenes, narrowly avoiding the R rating. But you definitely get the picture of what is happening to Angel and it isn't always pretty.

Angel's pain at being used by men is gripping for the reader. Michael's pain at not being able to truly enjoy, trust and feel safe with his wife is also quite evident. Her sinfulness in her lifestyle is made incredibly clear. Yet, Michael also has sin issues and he recognizes that he is no more worthy to be called a child of God than Angel is.

This book helped me to "even the playing field", so to speak, when comparing myself to others. I'm not Angel. I'm also not Michael. I'm pathetically me and I have a long ways to go myself! The other loud and clear message I got from this book was that God is strong enough to handle my sin issues. Thankfully, my salvation wasn't birthed by me and is not sustained by me. Yes, I have a call to be obedient to God and His commands but He has the love and grace and sovereignty to help me actually obey. It is not of me that I could boast, it is a gift. (Ephesians 2:8) So, in a strange way, I am Angel. And I am Michael. And God is God and able to redeem, for which I am truly grateful.

Redeeming Love is a powerful read and therefore dangerous. It has the power to sway human emotions and human hearts - in good ways and bad ways. It isn't scripture, but it represents it. For the good? For the bad? I don't know that I (or you) could say. I only know that it spoke to me of God's ability to cover my sin. So I am thrilled by Francine Rivers and I simultaneously feel a caution in recommending the book the book to just anyone too hastily. I think if it swayed emotions over "just a simple love story" then the book will have served a very small and entertainment-driven purpose. If it moves you to see how much God loves you (enough to redeem you) then I feel more wholly positive about it. Rivers writes magnificently, assuring me that no one can read it and NOT be moved in some particular direction. I just question if the message of the book always accurately moves people towards the God she herself clearly loves.

It is a compelling and moving read. There is no doubt about that. It is craftily told and wonderfully written. Rivers possess great skill as a writer and I can certainly see why it is easy to become enamoured with her style. I certainly am. I am also grateful for the reminder of how very much God loves me, in spite of myself.

O The Blood of the Passover Lamb
by Martin Nystrom

O the blood of the Passover Lamb
Is applied to the door of my life
No power of darkness could ever withstand
The force of the blood sacrifice

Though Satan will bring accusations
I let him know where I stand
For now there is no more condemnation
I’m under the blood of the Lamb

I’m under the blood of the Lamb
That covers the guilt of my past
By the mercy of God
Holy and righteous I stand

I’m under the blood of the Lamb
I’m safe and secure from the enemy’s plan
No weapon formed against me will stand
I’m under the blood of the Lamb

To check out what others are reading for this carnival, CLICK HERE.


Annette W. said...

I had forgotten some of the details since it had been years since I read it. Your review reminded me of much...especially that you can't read it unchanged.

Stephanie Kay said...

Hmmm... still not sure this is a book I should read. Thank you for an honest and clear review!

Melissa said...

I haven't read this one. I've read some of her other books. My favorite is And the Shofar Blew. READ IT. It's wonderful, and not a re-telling of anything.

Barbara H. said...

Thank you! It has been a while since I read it, too, but thus did bring back memories. I share your concern about retelling Biblical stories as modern tales. At their best they can open someone's eyes who might not read the Biblical account, or possibly give one who has read them maybe a clearer picture of what the people in the Biblical account might have been feeling. But if people get caught up in the story and miss the Biblical truth or confuse the two, that's cause for concern. I think Rivers does it about as well as it could be done. Her Mark of the Lion series is riveting. Leota's Garden is not Biblical fiction, but it was a favorite, too.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I LOVED this book, Carrie, but you already know that. It helped me, I think, to know that this was the first of Rivers' books (I believe--I hope I'm getting the story right) after she became a Christian. She had written secular fiction before, and I think I viewed the book so much as the way God "got through" to her--through an amazing story.

Anyway, I second everyone above me who said read something else by her--anything! I personally LOVED The Mark of the Lion series, as well as all of her other stand alone titles. If you don't like Biblical fiction, then you might not be comfortable with her novellas based on the women in Jesus' geneaology (the series title escapes me) and their companion novellas about the men. I find them moving and beautiful, but again, they might be beyond your comfort zone.

I'm glad this one touched you. I thought it would, and I HOPED you'd like it.

Missi said...

this doesn't have to do with your post, but I just wanted to let you know that thanks to you and your great book reviews on this blog, I've borrowed FIVE books from the library over a two week period. And coming from me...a total non-reader...that is saying something. So thanks for writing such great reviews on all these great books to give people like me some clue on what she is doing at the library! lol

Lisa Spence said...

I love Francine Rivers! It's been years and years since I read Redeeming Love, or any of her novels come to think of it. I think The Last Sin Eater is my favorite though The Scarlet Thread and The Atonement Child are both really, really good. Oh, and The Mark of the Lion series--fantastic!

Shonya said...

I SO agree with you! I don't usually like Christian fiction--imo people get published just b/c they are writing for that genre, they don't have to be good writers. But Rivers is OUTSTANDING!!!! The Mark of the Lion series is a tie for first place with Redeeming Love out of all her books (and it's not a fictionalized account of a Bible story). The only other ones of her books are the novellas (Lineage of Grace, etc), but one thing you might like about these is they have a Bible study guide in the back of the book which points people directly to the Word.

I got hooked on her and read all of her books, then went back and read Redeeming Love and Mark of the Lion again--she has ruined me! :) But the good news is she has another book coming out in Feb (or maybe it's March)! Hurray!!!

Cassandra said...

I also have some concerns with fictionalizing the Bible stories. It's scary when people take certain ideas as Biblical fact when they are not.

That said, I LOVED Redeeming Love. I struggle with self esteem issues and that book brought me to tears with the deep realization that God loves me as I am. I don't have to be perfect for Him to love me but that's what I've always believed. Redeeming Love opened the door to the thought that maybe I don't have to be perfect... maybe I don't have to have it all together. God loves me anyways.

Jen Evans said...

Very thoughtful and well-written review. I read this a few years back, and it was the book that got me hooked on reading again, and on historical fiction!

Also enjoyed the Mark of the Lion series - it "brought to life" the culture in which the early church existed. Ha, we think it's bad in America... ;)

Unknown said...

I decided at the end of this last year that I was finally going to read Reedeming Love. It was a blogger posting in Nightstand that tipped the scales, I think, and then a real-life friend gushed as well.

I completely agree with you about fiction that is based on scripture. In general, I think it's good if it enlightens you -- or opens you up to God's story in a true way. BUT they can be so dangerous.

I've read a few of Rivers (I think it's her) -- Lineage of Grace series, and they almost cross the line as far as adding details I think.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

My book club read this one earlier this year (and I reviewed it on my blog). It affected some members in the same way that it affected you, but I have to say that I wasn't as big of a fan. But I will say that it seems to be very popular with book clubs over the past few years - I saw it mentioned many times of Reading Group Guides!

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

Wow. Thanks for the review. I don't read Christian fiction for the same reasons that you've mentioned. Here is mine

Michelle said...

I read this book in the fall, after reading The Scarlet Thread for the second time, and it was by far the best book I read in all of 2009. I was deeply moved by this book though I could never have put it as eloquently as you! :)

Unknown said...

I have been avoiding reading this book because so many girls swoon over it....but I told myself that once you reviewed it I would read it.

Off to find a copy! :)

Rachel said...

Part of why I love this book so much is because I feel like she paints us a picture of the love of all 3 persons of the Trinity - how the Holy Spirit so gently speaks to us and guides us through even the hardest of times, how the love of the Father is so overwhelmingly unconditional and the exchange He offers is greater than anyone could ever explain (although the exchange from Angel to the restored innocence of Sarah is a pretty good example), and the way Jesus our Bridegroom longs for the whole complete Bride, not just a small part of our mind that says 'yes Jesus, I'll follow'

I also feel like it gives insight into why we stay trapped in our sin, not that it is ever right... but the lies that we can so easily believe from the enemy. The struggle Angel goes through in exchanging each lie for truth is so parallel to how we 'cling' to our old sin patterns and ways simply because we do not fully understand the fullness of what God is really offering.

all that said, I obviously love the book, but do think we have to remind ourselves it is a work of fiction. Although it is historical/biblical fiction, the Lord can still use it to draw us closer to Himself.

Discerning Reader said...

I haven't read this book, but there is another book, ENDLESS LOVE by Sun Hui East, that also tells the story of Hosea and Gomer (his wayward bride) but keeps it in Biblical times. Hosea's story is compelling and, just as you said, I can see myself in both Hosea and in Gomer (though I wish it was more Hosea and less Gomer).
It is an excellent read as well, if you liked Redeeming Love.

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