I recently finished a book recommended to me called Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. When I read the Amazon description of the book, I gave the person who recommended the book fair warning; this is a Christian romance novel and I’m probably too jaded to appreciate it. This person assured me I would love it as it is a story of the book of Hosea written in the setting of the gold country in the 1850’s. Let’s just say, there are so many issues I have with this romance story that I cannot recommend this book.
To begin, I’d like to note, this is the first romance novel I have read since I was about 12 years old and so I cannot speak to all romance novels. But the issues I have with this book are very similar to issues I have with most romance movies and thus why I have given up on them as well. My husband even has fun telling me the names of the Hallmark movies he encounters to watch me fake-gag; ‘Love at First Bark’ and ‘Frozen in Love’ are just a little bit too much for me.
Of course, as with any good lie there is always an element of truth. The hero of this story, Michael Hosea, has many good qualities; he loves God, is righteous on many levels, is a rescuer, he attempts to hear God, and acknowledges his own need for redemption. It shows he waits for intimacy until she is ready and he has a good balance between rugged-toughness and sensitivity. This is a story of attempting to love in the midst of the need to forgive many times over. There are several good lessons to learn from it.
Michael Hosea is represented as an amazing, God-fearing man who falls in love with Angel, a beautiful, needing-to-be-rescued, prostitute who has been sex-trafficked since childhood. He sets out to save her, but in doing so he kidnaps her against her will and marries her when she is in a state of half-consciousness. He takes her 30 miles outside of the nearest town and holds her against her will until he can convince her of his undying love for her through his ‘being nice’ to her.
This is SO NOT how you help a victim of sex trafficking!!! Just because you want what is best for someone does not give you permission to be yet another person who takes away their choice with your choice.
She escapes “his love” to go back to prostitution, and he does it AGAIN! His great love for her busts in on her in the act of prostitution and kidnaps her a SECOND time! She fights going with him and yet ‘he knows best’ and kidnaps her back to his home.
Here inlays a problem with a multitude of romance stories: the author ‘shows’ you she says ‘no’, but tells you that she secretly wants to be kidnapped. Do you see how many problems there are with this??? In essence, we are told this woman doesn’t really know what she wants so don’t listen to her. In today’s language, Michael Hosea is a god-fearing man who would be brought up on charges of stalking and kidnapping.
Michael Hosea does good to show Angel kindness, compassion, and mercy on many different levels. But do you see, that when this is coupled with loss of independent thought and choice, it becomes dehumanizing. God always allows us the choice of running to false gods and emptiness.
At one point, Hosea tells Angel ‘you belong to me’ because she is his wife but remember she was half-conscious when he slipped the ring on her finger. Too many times unhealthy people think of ‘belonging’ as ownership. They think because ‘you belong to me’ means I can now make decisions for YOU because you are too broken to make decisions for yourself. In reality, belonging means we bring our true selves into relationship and are accepted right where we are.
Please hear me on this: The way to help a person who is ‘too broken’ is to listen to them. Give them their choice back. Support their decisions which you may see will bring them to more harm but through this they will learn. They need to choose their own path of healing or choose to continue in pain.
Ultimately, he learns he has to let her go in order for her to actually heal and love him in return. I won’t spoil the book for you but suffice it to say, Michael Hosea ultimately plays the hero by relinquishing control and letting God be God in her life.
This Is Not Even the Story of Hosea
In reading Hosea, I feel like the author missed the point. I will admit, maybe I don’t understand Hosea because I think the commentators that I read on Hosea don’t get the point either. In Hosea 1-3, God calls the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute as a prophetic picture to Israel of what she is doing, playing the harlot. This is shown as a ridiculous marriage, not as the icon of what a marital love should be. The majority of Hosea 4-14 is God telling Israel of his anger and the chastisements she will receive because of her wicked ways. He allows Israel to become exhausted with running from Him. God’s kindness and tenderness is ever present and ready to receive Israel when she is ready but Israel doesn’t experience His kindness and tenderness while living a wanton lifestyle. It is after she repents that God is always ready to show his redeeming kindness and tenderness.
This story of Michael Hosea dominating and rescuing her from bondage through endless niceness is not the story of Hosea in the Bible. Hosea is a book of judgement to the corporate people of God. Applying it to an individual can be problematic. (Addendum: Does she need to be rescued? Absolutely! But this is for the civil magistrate to do and then to prosecute those responsible. She then needs to find spiritual healing. THEN she is ready for a romanic relationship.)
God’s kindness and forbearance are involved in leading us to repentance as shown in Romans 2. But even in that context, God allows us to run to our false gods and reap the consequences (Romans 1) so that we will turn back to Him.
How Romance Novels Set Us Up for False Ideas of Love
In the beginning, Michael Hosea sees Angel walking down the street and God tells him that ‘she’s the one’. (Are there romance stories where this isn’t the set up?) What kind of thinking does this set us up for? Do you wait for God to tell you ‘this is the one’ before you move? Is there ‘the one’? Can you lie to yourself to get what you want? While you can be attracted to someone (and I think you should be attracted to someone you marry), there are SO many other elements that are important to consider before dedicating your life (at first glance) to someone, such as; how do they resolve conflict, what are their life goals, what and how do they spend money, etc. To set us up that ‘true love’ knows the moment you see them is a recipe for disaster. It ends up being a constant disappointment because they don’t meet the expectations of what you created in your mind when you glanced at them from across the street.
Here’s a line of disaster, “She marveled at how he was sensitive to her every thought” (page 318). Guess what, we can NOT read each other’s minds. Sensitivity is great but to have this as an expectation of romance is catastrophic. And if you think you can read someone else’s mind because you love them, you are arrogant.
Here’s another line of disaster from Michael to Angel when he has taken her out of the house in the middle of the night to walk through the woods and she is afraid. “You don’t hear me. You don’t understand anything. I can’t take you back. You’re not going to have it your way. It’s got to be my way or not at all” (page 138). What? Because he is a God-fearing, good-hearted man, it has to be his way? Because his love for her is so great he drags her through the woods to see a romantic sunrise and she doesn’t have a choice in this? Love does not demand it’s own way and it always allows for choice. So much WOW here people!!!
OK, one more line of disaster… “Give your pain to me,” Michael said to Angel (page 153). We like to think that true love can take away someone’s pain to make everything better. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. While we can bear one another’s burdens and it does lesson the load, it is still for the person to walk through into healing. It takes time and we must feel to heal.
There were a number of problems I have with this Christian romance novel and the way it depicts a good-hearted, God-fearing man as a stalker, controller, and kidnapper because he is overwhelmed with love for her and obeying God. It is shown in a way that proves his ‘control’ is really love for her. These mixed messages set us up to completely miss the point of romantic love.
Maybe the book of Hosea isn’t exactly the best book to develop a ‘romance novel’ after since it actually is a book of judgement. Maybe a better source from Scripture to model a romance after is the Song of Solomon, which is a book that depicts a story of mutual romance and a deepening marriage.
I am told from a reliable source, that there are a few good Christian romance novels out there that show good relational behaviors. But I think it’s going to be awhile before I take the risk to read another one.
(A second addendum: I get that men love to be hero’s. What if our romance stories showed he falls in love with a woman because she is a competent, attractive woman who actually adds her skills and giftings to be able to complete the mission? Hum…how would that set up the young women of our culture to develop themselves?)