Sunday, September 23, 2012

Redeeming Love and the Book of Hosea

Last weekend, I devoured Francine Rivers's Redeeming Love. I rarely love Christian fiction, and I don't typically read romance, but after hearing how wonderful it was and finding it almost magically on my roommate's desk, I had to pick it up. I read until four in the morning and then I started again at 10 a.m. the next day until I was finished.

Coincidentally, a few days afterward, we started studying Hosea in my Hebrew prophets class. We're not all the way through, but only the first three chapters deal with the events Redeeming Love is largely based on -- Hosea, at God's command, taking the prostitute Gomer for a wife. The rest of Hosea goes back into the prophet-speak that until recently I had a hard time concentrating on.

I haven't read anything else by Francine Rivers, and I won't say that it's the best writing I've ever read. But something about Redeeming Love is deeply touching and personal. Mirrored in the complexities of Angel and Michael's relationship are a thousand circumstances and feelings that I've struggled with in my relationship with God.

The story is beautiful. However, it doesn't correspond perfectly with the events in Hosea.

Maybe that wasn't what Rivers was going for. That's fine. I'd just always heard it was "based on the book of Hosea" and so assumed certain things about it. In Redeeming Love, the relationship between Israel and God is reflected in a very personal way, but the story in the Bible is just a little different.

While reading the book of Hosea, I was always confused by how God commands Hosea to take Gomer back after she's run away: "Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery..." (NKJV) It never seemed to me that the wording suggested God was actually talking about Gomer. A woman? Is that specific enough? It turns out that it's not specific in the Hebrew, either.  It doesn't actually say that Gomer runs away back to prostitution, either. People kind of infer the story from the way God and Hosea address Israel in the rest of the book. I have to wait til we're done studying Hosea to draw any more conclusions.

But what's the point? I don't know enough to be able to say what really happened to Hosea. He took the prostitute Gomer for a wife, and then again redeemed an adulteress with love. But I still think Rivers is dead on in her interpretation of the main point of the book: God wants to win back those unfaithful to Him with His love.

It's easy to take a mistaken stance in Christianity and focus on your behavior, the effectiveness of the church, even something so big as missions and make that the focal point, but really, it comes down to being loved by God. Until you understand that, you can't really love Him back.  None of your good deeds can save you. You can't hide your sin. Your American Protestant work ethic does not help you. It's love God, or nothing. Anything else is prostitution of the heart.

I recommend the book to high schoolers and up. It's not graphic, but it does mention out of necessity some... well... the main character is a prostitute, after all. It's more important to realize what the story represents and how it reflects on us. It's about God's redeeming love for us. Nothing else.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Articulating Feelings

This post was originally written as a reflection for my writing class. So far, we've talked about writing, how great it is, and how it affects us. Yes, this is a class. Cool, right?

Some of our discussions about literature and writing so far have reminded me of conversations I’ve had with my boyfriend. I am an emotional person who often relies on feelings to figure things out, whereas he is a very logically-thinking person with little emotional fluctuation. Consequently, sharing our viewpoints is fascinating. I’m also the more creative one, so I’ll go off talking about some project or story or idea, and he’ll ask questions that make me probe deeper into how I think about the story or about music, art, or literature in general.

One thing I mentioned to him about class was my professor's observation that The Lord of the Rings is possibly one of the most powerful stories ever written. Both my boyfriend and I love LotR. Both of us would agree with that statement. But, to understand what I think (and add to his ever-growing mental database of how other minds work) he started asking me questions that forced me to articulate things that usually exist as untapped feeling in my head. 

I love reading, writing, and stories very much. But my feelings about them are wrapped up in things I truly believe. Reading makes us better people. Reading expands our mental experience and our empathy. Stories give us hope and show us how faith and living interact. Even stories that aren’t “Christian.” Even stories that are dark. Some stories may not be particularly edifying, but I would argue that most of them are, at least in some way. Literature would mean nothing if it didn’t in some way echo truth.

Sometimes it takes me a while to argue these things properly, but I think the evidence is all around us. I know I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today without books. They’ve been such a big influence on how I grew up and how I think even now that I have no idea what kind of person I would be if I didn’t love reading. And – this is a feeling I don’t think I’ll bother articulating – I have to believe I’m a better person than I would have been otherwise.

The reflections that give rise to this kind of thought are one of the reasons I love discussing literature. I wish more people would talk about these things. I wish more people could see what stories do for us. Until then, I will continue the conversations. I hope whoever reads this will, too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Poor Life Decisions

Looking back over the last couple days, I can't say that things haven't been going well. I've kept up with homework, hung out with friends, and in general have been enjoying myself. Still, there are a couple of things I should not have been doing -- things that would make life a lot easier if I could plan better. They are, in no particular order:
  • Deciding to do Camp NaNoWriMo in what I knew would be an extremely busy month, getting ten thousand words behind in the second-to-last week, and being inconsistent about filling that gap because of such silly things as "being tired," or "not feeling like writing." Consequently, for the last several days of August, I had to spend several hours every night writing very very quickly and probably very poorly in order to catch up. This was aggravated by
  • Closing documents without saving because I got confused because I had too many documents open because I was trying to check my word count over various documents because I was disorganized because I need to figure out a better system to keep track of writing because I haven't bought Scrivener yet because I'm a poor college student. Consequently, I lost 2,000 words in a critical moment. This was stressful, since I had been
  • Letting tiredness build up from sleeping six hours or less the past several nights, and then
  • Playing the fifth game of mafia with people in my dorm when I really needed to go to bed before having to wake up very early the next morning, and then
  • Deciding to play board games the next night with people I love outside my dorm, because obviously I hadn't had enough yet, culminating in
  • Playing a three-hour game of Cities and Knights, in which my exhaustion was almost causing me fairly serious emotional problems, and which could and should have ended an hour and a half earlier.
Six short hours of sleep later, I woke up for my 8 a.m. class, really feeling pretty good for all that. But now daylight is telling me things I should be doing:
  • I should read the play for which I need to organize and find props before tech weekend three weeks from now.
  • I should take a nap today. Really.
  • I should talk to the freshmen on my floor and make sure everyone's doing okay with the transition to college. I should also make some time to pray with them.
  • I should  probably be doing homework instead of writing a blog post.
  • I should figure out what happened to my Fit for Life syllabus.
  • I should try much harder to find someone to permanently switch work shifts with me, since I have a class when I'm supposed to work.
  • I should write some personal letters I've been meaning to get to for the past two weeks.
  • I should take a minute to be quiet. That is all.
This sounds like a lot. But even in writing these lists, reviewing all the things that filled my time, I don't regret anything (well, except not writing earlier... that could have solved lots of problems.) But I got to be around really awesome people. I stayed busy. And I accomplished lots of things, despite having to work around many obstacles. Last week was great. But, in light of all this, I can try to make next week better.