"Find a whore and marry her." These are God's words to the prophet Hosea. That sorta gets your attention when you're riffling through your Old Testament. Hosea's marriage to a faithless wife was an allegory of God's unending love and forgiveness for His people, who promiscuously sought other gods and turned their backs on Him. Even when his wife leaves him to return to prostitution, Hosea retrieves her, forgives her, and loves her still. It's a powerful story... it doesn't need further explanation. Needless to say, it's humbling to think of myself as the faithless prostitute, turning repeatedly from God, only to be sought after and forgiven again and again.
In Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers retells the Biblical story against the backdrop of the California Gold Rush. Angel is a high-priced prostitute in Pair-a-Dice, (I'm just now realizing that that name is a pun...) California. Sold into sexual slavery at eight, prostitution is the only life she has known. Now, her life at eighteen is devoid of all goodness. Years of abuse have created an embittered woman, resigned and hardened to her life, until Michael Hosea visits her at the brothel. He pays for her company, but doesn't touch her body... he wants only to talk. He comes, night after night, because he wants to save her, love her, and marry her. Finally, in desperation, Angel concedes to marriage and returns to Michael's farm as his wife. The demons that haunt Angel cause her to doubt her newfound happiness and Michael's love. She is dirty and so used; why does she deserve the love of a good man? Like her Biblical counterpart, she whores herself again and again, but Michael--like Hosea, like God--never wavers in his love, remaining faithful, patient and relentless. He fights for and forgives his Beloved.
I mentioned recently that I have resisted this book for years... a decade perhaps? I overdosed on Christian historical fiction in approximately 1999, after consuming tens of formulaic romances that eventually fell frustratingly flat for me. By the time I attended a small Christian college in Ohio, I was more interested in literature. I consumed The Color Purple, Tender is the Night, Lady Chatterley's Lover, and Anna Karenina. But the only book that girls seemed to rave about was Redeeming Love. And I realize that this is revealing me to be a total book snob, but I thought to myself, "I have moved beyond that. To great literature. Hello? Anna Karenina?"
So, now, I humbly admit the error of my book-snobbish ways. Need I repeat that? Redeeming Love is an amazing book and I was WRONG. I loved this book and I should have read it long ago. The story of Hosea in itself is a powerful story, and this Gold-Rush retelling was no less moving. Angel's repeated return to sin is heartbreaking. Michael weeping alone in the barn, his heart broken, betrayed by his Beloved, is heart-wrenching.
Partly, Redeeming Love was so powerful because the issue of sex is addressed in forthright and beautiful ways. This was so refreshing for a Christian romance, in which the curtain usually drops just after the heroine says yes to a proposal of a marriage. My curious adolescent mind always heaved a sigh of frustration: "Come on, don't stop there!" Redeeming Love, while obviously discreet, addresses the sexual passion between Michael and Angel in a lovely way. Michael is a virgin at 26, and has saved himself for the right woman; it makes it even more powerful that the right woman has turned out to be a prostitute. Michael is tender and gentle with his wife, but unabashed in his desire for her. Through his reverent treatment of her, Angel sees that what she had before only known as ugly, was meant by God to be beautiful. In marriage, sex is an act of love, not of degradation or sin.
The references to the prophet Hosea were obvious; the book jacket reveals it to be a retelling of the prophet's story and Michael himself shares the story with Angel. So I think I would have preferred a little more subtlety in the naming of Michael's character. It's not like Angel was named Gomer, which was the name of the wife of the prophet of old. I think the story speaks for itself without the overkill of the surname of Hosea.