God doesn’t exist! Or does He? What has He ever done for me? I don’t need Him! Or do I?
So, you aren’t interested in church or religion. I get it! I do. Been there. But are you ever curious about why people seek God in their lives? Do you think people only turn to God when they are suffering? Are you curious about prayer and whether anyone is listening? Or do you wonder sometimes why God doesn’t prevent bad things? And even as you feel uncomfortable about ‘religion,’ do you ever feel a desire to let God in?
I am not a theologian. I am a sinner. Not that I ever intended to be such. Nevertheless, I am a sinner who has turned to God and found everything I have ever needed. With just that meager credential, I think I can recommend a delicious starting place to learn enough to decide if you might want to seek God as well.
“Redeeming Love” is the title of a book by Francine Rivers. It is an enlightening work of fiction which has its roots in a book of the Old Testament, Hosea. Both books illustrate the greatness of God’s love for us. Hosea seems difficult, at first, but “Redeeming Love” is an easy read, a story that flies by, and one which helps us to understand the story of Hosea.
Before I say more, let me tell you how I came to learn of the Rivers book and to read it. It was another of many seeming magical moments in my life when I feel guided to new understanding.
[note: text in red represent the words that Jesus spoke]
Not long ago, I was reading the Bible. I was specifically reading the first of the gospels of the New Testament, Matthew. . .as I am inclined to do from time to time, trying to understand exactly what Jesus had to say to us. I am trying to gain understanding fully in context. . .and in a personal manner. I seek understanding of both heart and mind.
My reading came to an abrupt halt when I read these words which Jesus spoke:
“But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” – Matthew 12:7
I thought to myself. . .I just read this! Am I reading the same sentence over? So I went back through pages I had read earlier and found this:
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” – Matthew 9:13
As you can imagine I began to think about the significance that Jesus gave this message twice. . .on two different occasions. So I began to study the context of each.
In the first instance, the Pharisees question His disciples asking “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus overhears their question and responds by telling them:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick .” – Matthew 9:12
And then He tells them they should learn the meaning of ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’.
[Who exactly are the Pharisees? According to dictionary.com they were “members of a Jewish sect that flourished during the 1st centry b.c. and 1st century a.d. and that differed from the Sadducees chiefly in its strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, adherence to oral laws and tradition, and belief in an afterlife and the coming of a Messiah.”(1) Jesus called them hypocrites. They impose punishment on those who break God’s law, as they see it, and hold themselves above these lawbreakers, while in their own way they are in violation of God’s teachings. Of course, they do not see in themselves, what Jesus sees in them.]
I returned to the second instance of this message. In this case the Pharisees were once again calling out Jesus because His disciples were doing what was not lawful. . .eating the grain from fields on the Sabbath! Jesus says:
“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
So I began to ponder the meaning of these words. . .”I want mercy and not sacrifice”. . .and as I studied them I realized that each time this phrase appears in my bible, there is a reference number next to it. The reference is:
Like a good mystery, that grabbed my attention and perked my interest in understanding the book of Hosea. It is a book in the Old Testament, written by the Prophet Hosea whom God used in a most surprising way.
I found that the book of Hosea is not an easy read! It is more poetry than prose and as I struggled to understand it, my head started reeling.
What I gleaned from my first reading what that God asks a man, Hosea, to take a wife of character which you would expect Hosea to disdain. God says to him:
“Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry
And children of harlotry,
For the land has committed great harlotry
By departing from the Lord.”
What? Why? Why would you God, ask your follower to take on a sinner as a spouse. I’m sure in his faithfulness to you he imagined that you would reward him with a woman of equal faith. I can’t imagine that Hosea didn’t have questions about this. Perhaps he wondered at his own sanity. Had he really heard God speaking to him? But he was a man of faith. . .of deep and abiding faith. . .and he did what God asked of him.
As I read further, I gleaned that God was quite angry. There is paragraph after paragraph of God calling out the children of Israel on their betrayal and their sins; their faithlessness. I finally gave up, at least for the moment, trying to understand what in the world this book of Hosea is about. It seems so contrary to the idea that God wants us to refrain from sin. It was rather confusing.
But God often puts words in front of me. . .that I cannot ignore. It is how He guides me.
And so it was that a couple of days later I came across a facebook posting from my friend Gretchen. She posted that she is participating in a book study. I had seen this information before and had thought then, perhaps I should join Gretchen. . .but time passed and I did not take action. However, this time her post went on: Gretchen noted that she had purchased the book and opened it the night before. . .and could not put it down. That alone got my attention because I love a book I can’t put down. And then she made the point in her post that the book is supposed to be based on the book of Hosea in the bible.
Oh my! Was this a gentle nudge. . .or a firm rap on the knuckles for giving up too easily? Hmmmmm.
In any event, it moved me to action. I went to my local library and found that indeed they do have the book “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers. . .so I checked it out. The cover. . .what can I say about the cover? It looks like a Harlequin Romance novel; Definitely not my thing. And Francine Rivers, as it turns out is indeed a romance novelist. Am I sure I want to do this? But because it is supposed to be connected to Hosea. . .and because I felt a familiar compulsion, I opened it and began reading.
I could not put it down either!
I finished the book the very next day.
It is not a romance story in the classic sense. No, it is so much better. It is so much more enlightening. It is the story of God’s unrelenting love for us, His children as told through the fictional account of characters with whom I could rather easily relate.
I am overwhelmed by this story.
On the surface, it is just a good read.
It is set in the California Gold Rush. From the back cover we can learn, it is the story of Angel who “expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child, she survives by keeping her hatred alive. And what she hates most are the men who user her, leaving her empty and dead inside.”
And it is the story of “Michael Hosea who seeks his Father’s heart in everything. Michael Hosea obeys God’s call to marry Angel and to love her unconditionally.” I can tell you that as the story unfolds, Michael learns that he has his work cut out for him. . .and he begins to question his own relationship with God, while Angel resists any relationship with God.
And yet, it is God who heals the frozen heart of Angel and woos her with His love.
I know God loves us. But through this story I grasped the bigness of His love which is infinite. . .like the universe, ever increasing. I thought, we throw the expression unconditional love around far too easily. This is so much bigger.
The word unrelenting did not occur to me. . .but as a new member of the study group I received a guide to the book of Hosea in the bible. I opened the first page and saw: “Hosea: God’s Unrelenting Love.”
I know that is the right word.
Unrelenting. You can run away. . .but you will be drawn back. God will give you the freedom to turn away from Him. . .but He will not let you go.
He has given you free will. He will not force you back. He will allow you to experience the consequences, whatever they may be, of your decisions. You may find yourself in circumstances that bring unhappiness that you did not expect. And perhaps you blame Him for not rescuing you. But all along He will woo you in ways you cannot imagine.
He will woo you until it is His voice you hear in your heart and mind. . .not the voices that wish to entice you away from Him with one trick and deceitful lie or another.
Perhaps a final statement on the back cover puts it best: “A powerful retelling of the book of Hosea, Redeeming Love is a life-changing story of God’s unconditional, redemptive, all-consuming love.”
This is a romance that I feel every adult should read, male and female. It provides context and guidance for every loving relationship with God and between spouses, parents and children, siblings, friends. . .and even strangers.
And now armed with the creative story of Michael Hosea and Sarah/Angel/Amanda. . .I have the framework to grasp the beauty of how God leads His prophet Hosea to emulate Gods own love for his people, the children of Israel, who repeatedly go astray. . .in sin; How He guides their experiences to provide discipline in a way that ultimately will bring them back to Him. . .while He waits with infinite patience, gentle encouragement, and unbounded love.
“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6
Our God is merciful! His love and affection remain steadfast regardless of the depth of our sin. And His love is so great that He allows us to suffer the misery our sin brings. Yes, He allows us to reap the consequences of our choices. He knows that it is this misery and the desperation it drives that begins our turning back to Him. His love will not be subdued.
The most important thing to understand about God is: No matter how much or how we have sinned, how filthy we feel we have become with sin, He will make us clean. He will do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves. He will make us holy. He redeems us. He will love us, period.
It is not a question of how can I redeem myself so that God will accept me. He loves us as we are. We need only turn to Him seeking redemption. . .and through His grace we are purified, clean and holy.
Once, I had an experience that gave me a new understanding of what the word ‘peace’ really means. It was a profound change in my heart and mind and the word now means something much greater than it once did for me. There are not even words to describe it. The best I can do is share that peace is golden. . .and warm. . .with no worries. . .no concerns. None. Buzzing with happiness. Pure bliss.
Now again I am experiencing a profound change in my understanding of His love. . .how great it is. . .great beyond my ability to imagine. . .it is indeed unrelenting.
That is the great message of “Redeeming Love.” But you will learn more too. Perhaps you have not known a healthy God loving relationship in your life. This story shares something of Gods plans for a loving relationship in a marriage, in family, in fellowship with others. . .and even with strangers.
You will see the best dynamics of each. . .and in some cases the shortcomings we, in our humanity, display as we struggle in our lives. Thank you Francine Rivers for taking the time to understand the book of Hosea. . .and for bringing your gifts to build a bridge to understanding the greatness that is our Father in Heaven.
I hope some of you are intrigued. . .and interested in learning how to seek Him! I hope that others may become so intrigued by reading “Redeeming Love.”