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.

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