“Though fallen low, God raised her up.” – Redeeming Love
Francine Rivers had it all. A degree in English and Journalism. The husband. The kids. A successful career. An established voice in the secular and romance markets. Everything pointed to her enjoying the “American dream” in all of its glory.
And then God.
Though she had been raised in a religious home, Rivers did not experience a salvation moment with Christ until well into adulthood. When she had the husband and the kids and the career. When it was all mapped out and going swimmingly.
Rivers took her literary gifts and poured them into her first novel for the Christian market. Redeeming Love is the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea set against the backdrop of gold-rush California. Yet the novel is more than that. Redeeming Love stands as Francine Rivers’ declaration of faith. It is her song of praise to the God who saved her from all the hollow riches woman can attain.
It’s not a pretty story. (Neither is the book of Hosea). Over and over again, Sarah (whose real name is not revealed until the end of the novel) rejects both the love of the man who saved her from prostitution and the love of God. The abuse she has suffered all her life has moved her to hide behind a metaphorical wall of ice. She will not be hurt. She will not be moved. She has her own plans.
(I have to pause here and say that I am so everlastingly thankful for all of the “and then God” moments in my life. He tenderly shakes His head at all of my plans and schemes as He proceeds to mess up everything in the best way possible).
Rivers’ skill as a storyteller draws the reader in from the very first page. We journey with Sarah through all of the darkness and brokenness. We want to scream at her as she pushes all the good away. We rejoice when the moment comes, at long last. When she finally turns her face to the Light.
Redeeming Love stands as my favorite Rivers novel, though there is some stiff competition. The Lineage of Grace series of novellas fictionalizes the stories of all the women in the genealogy of Christ. And the Shofar Blew explores the temptation, fall and redemption of a megachurch pastor. The Mark of the Lion trilogy tells the intertwining stories of a Hebrew slave, a Germanic gladiator and a wealthy Roman family in the decades immediately following the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Atonement Child deals with the difficulty of rape and a resulting pregnancy. Marta’s Legacy follows four generations of women as they struggle to find where they belong – in the world and in their family. The Sons of Encouragement series of novellas fictionalize the lives of some of the famous men of Scripture. (Full disclosure: The story of Amos made me cry).
I could go on, but you get the point.
You can’t really go wrong in picking up any of her books.
One thing that I particularly respect about Rivers is how hard she worked to remove her earlier work from the market. Those of us who work in libraries don’t refer to romance novels as “bodice rippers” for nothing. Once she had come to know and follow the Lord, Rivers understood that this was no longer her life. These are no longer the stories that represent who she is and what she is about.
Francine Rivers is a wonderful example of someone who understands and embraces the intersection of art and worship. Her stories are not cookie-cutter. The characters are messy. They face problems and challenges. As they should, for God’s rescuing activity and redemptive power is not displayed on blank canvas. He reaches out to us, the hopelessly messed-up and lost, and reworks the colors of our portraits. The dark shades are covered in the red of His blood and the whiteness of His holiness. From this emerges pictures of real people saved and indwelt by a very real God.
For all entries in the 31 Days for the Ladies series, go here.