Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Redeeming Love"

At the beginning of June, I finished Francis Rivers' book "Redeeming Love" and it was fantastic... Until the end.  I have had this book on my shelf for several years because multiple people told me I had to read it.  I bought it several years ago and with everything that has been going on, (aka: graduating college, starting my career, getting married, buying a house, adopting a puppy....) I hadn't had the time to read it.  Well, with summer starting, I moved it to the top of the must read stack.

I knew going into the book that it was a story that followed a parallel from the book of Hosea.  God told Hosea to marry a prostitute as a symbol of His love toward Israel.  Hosea took someone who was considered "unworthy" and showed unconditional love.  Hosea loved her when she wasn't worthy, he loved her when she was wrong, he even loved her when she left him to go back to prostitution.  Hosea's love for his unworthy wife has metaphorical meaning showing God's love to us, His love to me.

Spoiler alert if you haven't ready the book....

When I started reading the prologue, I thought about quitting because it was very dark.  A little girl named Sarah was exposed to emotional abuse as her mother was a mistress of a wealthy man in town who "wished she had never been born!"  Her mother was so obsessed with wanting her father's love that she was unaware of the ideas concerning "love" she was teaching her daughter.  When the father was ready to visit, the mother sent Sarah away with the housemaid who took her to a shack hotel by the sea.  The housemaid was in a unhealthy relationship with the bartender at the hotel who took her upstairs and scared Sarah outside in the hall while he had his way with the maid.  When the bartender broke up with the maid, the maid started spouting hateful "truths" about men and life (which are not truths at all). When the father was tired of paying for Sarah and her mother to live in a small cottage, they were sent out on the streets to find refuge.   Sarah's mother went back to her parents house (who were outstanding people in society) to ask forgiveness but they tossed her and their illegitimate grandchild out without even listening.  Sarah's mother ended up being a prostitute before she died in their shack off the docks from an illness.  Sarah was then sold by her mother's "boyfriend" to a man named Duke.   Duke was a wealthy and powerful man who was also pure evil.  He was a sick pedophile who changed her name to Angel when he took her virtue. 

All of that was in the prologue.  I really wanted to put down the book and never look back.  It was so dark, so hurtful, so twisted to what I know is truth.  I felt for this little girl.  Because of God's goodness, I have never been in any situation anything close to that.  I can only imagine it because of the book, but I really wanted no part of this story.  But then I started to think about God's redeeming love and I knew the story had the possibility to teach me something and I didn't want to miss out.

The book started off with Angel in a brothel in California.  You feel her misery.  You feel others judgment on her.  You feel the sick desires of the men who come to visit.  Angel is trapped in nightmare but thinks it is the only option.

Michael Hosea is in town delivering his crops to the market when he sees her walking down the street.  The Lord speaks to him and tells him this is the woman he is to marry.  He does not know that she is the most sought after prostitute in the city nor that she resides under the watchful eye of two evil and controlling people.  He finds out from the store manager her details and then thinks about how he can even get close to her. 

Michael ends up paying the brothel to go to her room and expects to take her out of there that night.  It doesn't go like he plans, and he ends up going back 3 more times before he storms off mad.  Angel then ticks off the wrong person who beats her almost to the point of death.  Michael returns to find her black and blue.  He races to find a pastor, brings him back to Angel to preform a ceremony.  Angel is half conscious and when asked if she takes Michael to be her husband she says "why not."

Michael takes Angel back to his farm in the valley and shows her the most precious love.  He shows her unconditional love.  He nurses her back to health.  He begins to teach her life skills like building a fire and others things.  It isn't easy.  Angel is not trusting, or understanding.  She is constantly looking for the catch or what it would cost her.  Michael continues to show her love.  It isn't easy and takes almost 350 pages, but she falls in love with him too.

Angel runs away from Michael 3 times throughout the book.  The first time she runs away to escape a situation that she can't seem to understand -- a man taking her in and loving her for no reason she knows of-- and returns to prostitution.  Michael's brother-in-law is the first when he demands a payment for the 30 mile ride back into town.  Angel returns to see things in the town have changed and has to take up a new residence in a room above the saloon.  Michael comes to take Angel back and finds her in the middle of a "job."  He still took her back, he showed her love.  He forgave her.

When she realized that she was starting to begin feeling love also, she ran away again.  But this time she was determined to not turn back to prostitution and didn't.  She found work a merchant who was also a friend of Michaels.  The merchant sent word to Michael and he came and got her again.

The third time she runs away it is because she cannot have children because of something Duke had the doctors do to her when she was in prostitution.  This time she runs away because she truly does love Michael and knows that he wants children and she can't give them to him.  At this point in the story, Angel thinks that this God Michael talks about and loves is just some lie that Michael believes.  If there were a God, how could He have let the things that happened to her happen?  Where is God in that?

There were other characters that played an important role throughout the story in teaching Angel how to love, the Altmans.  When Angel left, she had planned for the oldest daughter of that family to marry Michael when he "got over her" so that she could give him children.  Because of dramatic irony, we know that the older daughter actually wants the brother-in-law.  Angel's plan doesn't work, however this time, Michael will not go after her, knowing that God needs to save her soul and Angel has to come back on her own.

Angel runs away and ends up in a large town.  A still small voice leads her to a café where she ends up getting hired as the cook.  She works hard for 6 months there before the place catches fire.  When the are out rummaging through the remains she goes for a drink of water only to hear the voice of the devil himself.  She stands up to see Duke. 

Duke forces her back to his establishment, a bar and casino type of a place that held a brothel upstairs.  He takes her upstairs and begins to mock her.  He doesn't lay a hand on her however, waiting to torment her more.  During this time she meets a girl called in to serve her named Cherry and can hear Dukes new little girl crying in the room next door.  Duke plans this big event to "display" Angel in front of the men in the saloon before putting her to work again.   Angel is terrified but keeps being comforted by this still small voice.  When she is shoved on stage, the men ask her to sing.  In a panic she starts to sing the only song that comes to her mind.  It was a song Michael had sung one time, she started singing "Rock of Ages."

That shut the men in the room up.  Angel panicked and quit singing.  One man sitting at the bar starts to sing the rest of the song.  When she goes off stage, Duke is furious.  As he raises his hand to hit her, the man that sang come up and threatens Duke with his life, promising to have him hung in the square if he touched her.  The man asks Angel if she would like to leave and she response with a yes and asks him to wait a minute.  Angel goes upstairs and gets the two little girls and takes them with her. 

At this point in the story, I have loved every minute of Gods redeeming love! The story is so fascinating and even with all of the dark and evil within the story, the overpowering theme of Gods ability to love us, to love me is uplifting and encouraging.  It is from here that I have a little judgment.  Now, who am I to judge a book?  No one!  I don't have any literary degrees and I have never written anything worth reading either.  But the ending of the book really frustrates me. 

This man takes Angel and the two little girls back to his home with his wife and daughter.  They provide refuge for these three.  The two little girls end up getting adopted by loving families.  Angel befriends this man's daughter and through her, that is how Angel comes to know the loving Savior of Christ.  Angel and the daughter start a ministry with funding from the father and others in town to serve as a refugee to prostitutes.  They take in prostitutes, give them a safe place to stay as well as teach them skills needed to find honest work.  The ministry has arrangements to help them find paying jobs around town once they have mastered the skills needed (cooking, sewing, reading, writing, etc.)

The idea of Angel starting this ministry is wonderful, and does show God's redeeming love.  However, the brother-in-law is the one that finds her and brings her back to Michael.  They immediately make up and then the story ends.  The Epilogue tells you that the ministry continues and does well, and then Angel and Michael have 4 children.  That's it.  There is no explanation as to how she has the children, when the information you know earlier is that it would be next to impossible fkr Angel to have children.

That is why I am displeased with the ending.... I never could have written story as well as this, however, I would have ended it differently.  I think that Angel should have been the one to adopt the two little girls and then when she returned to Michael, he could have adopted them as well.  Who would possibly know more about how to relate to these little ones than Angel and Michael?  Who could comfort and encourage more than them?  What is a better example and analogy to God's love for us than adoption? 

Ephesians 1:4-6 says "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves."

I am not saying that I think Angel shouldn't have had a baby.  I just think that the large family they established should have been through adoption and bloodline.  I was adopted into Christ family.  What a precious and true picture of love when you can love something that society tells you not to. 

The ending bothered me so much... that it took me all summer to write this and post it.  I finished the book two weeks into the summer...

If you stuck with me through this long post, what do you think?  If you have read the book or not, thoughts?

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