I’m recently back from leading a book club retreat at the lovely El Palmeral in Spain. We sat by the pool, the bubbling water and chirping birds as our background soundtrack, and discussed four books, along with engaging in related spiritual exercises. You may not enjoy such a tremendous setting to engage with Francine Rivers’ story, but here are my thoughts on it along with some questions for reflection and discussion.
What’s it about? Sarah is a young girl whose innocence was fully shattered when her mother dies. At just eight, she was renamed Angel and sold into prostitution. It was the 1850s in California during the Gold Rush, and the craze for gold warped many morals.
Angel closes off her emotions and learns to expect nothing. Then an honest, God-fearing man enters her life; Michael, a farmer who follows God’s leading and marries her. Her heart remains cold but he loves her day by day. Finally she begins to thaw, and unexpectedly confronts a whole host of emotions she never knew she had. And so she does the only thing she knows to do, which is to run from him.
My view: What a novel. I’ve read it three times; twice in 2008 when I featured it in the Woman Alive book club and then again recently. Each time I found more to ponder, although the first times I read it, I found myself so gripped that raced through it in one sitting.
Francine Rivers does a wonderful job at weaving the Christian faith into the story. It’s integral and doesn’t feel forced or false. She raises vital issues for, including self-identity, forgiveness of others and forgiveness of self, community, sacrificial love, and hearing God’s voice. And she does so in a way that is emotionally compelling and gripping.
My heart broke many times for Angel as she was used and abused, starting with the rejection by her father, continued by her mother’s dependence on him and then her death, and then all the atrocious and despicable acts committed against her as she was sold into prostitution. It made me grateful for the charities engaged in putting an end to this modern form of slavery. Are we standing by while such horrors are still occurring?
Redeeming Love shows a journey of character development, and doesn’t just recount a bunch of hurdles the characters have to overcome for them to come together. After the marriage, Angel has to change and become transformed. She needs to open herself up to love and life; she needs to learn how to trust; then she needs to give herself to God. And we see how Michael fights for her and loves her sacrificially, giving of himself that she might find herself.
One to reread every couple of years!
Spoiler alert: don’t read these questions until after you’ve finished the book.
- What did you think of the novel? Did you find it gripping? Too long? Not long enough?
- Child prostitution, violence, drunkenness, sexual tension, unvarnished greed… not the usual subjects of a Christian novel. Were you comfortable with how the author handled these topics?
- Why do you think Sarah’s mother stayed in the relationship with Alex Stafford?
- Michael was a man who followed God’s leading. What did you think about him as a character? Was he too good to be true, or believable? What were his strengths and weaknesses?
- Sarah lost her identity when she was sold into prostitution as a child. She then had many names – Angel, Mara, Amanda, Tirzah. What does a person’s name say about them? What did you think of her deepest gift to Michael when she revealed her true name?
- What about Michael Hosea’s name? Consider this internet definition of the Archangel Michael, and discuss how it applies to the character in the story: “The spirit creature called Michael is not mentioned often in the Bible. However, when he is referred to, he is in action. In the book of Daniel, Michael is battling wicked angels; in the letter of Jude, he is disputing with Satan; and in Revelation, he is waging war with the Devil and his demons.”
- Were you surprised that God called Michael to marry a “soiled dove,” a woman who had sold her body to many men? Do you think the Lord would call someone to such a calling today?
- Michael sparks feelings in Angle that she doesn’t even know exist as he opens her up to beauty, such as when he takes her to view the sunrise (p. 129). She had been exposed to worldly beauty in her previous life – with the finest foods and silks, and yet her world was actually the color of brown, surrounded she was by mud in many forms. Discuss how she begins to open up to life and light and color.
- Michael says to Angel, “A woman is either a wall or a door, beloved” (p. 153). Agree or disagree? Why?
- What did you think of the character of Paul? Did you dislike him? Why do you think Miriam fell for him? Why was he the only one who could have called Angel home?Discuss the Altman family. How did God use them to reveal his love to Angel? To Michael?
- Freedom is an important topic running throughout the novel (see, for instance, pages 187 and following). How did Angel finally come to true freedom? Who helped her along this journey?
- “But the past kept catching up with her, no matter how fast she ran” (p. 254). Have you seen this to be true in your life? Why or why not?
- Discuss the meaning of truth (pp. 257-58). Angel’s understanding is so different from Michael’s, for he knows the truth will set her free but she thinks it will bind her. How have they come to their different understandings, and what does it take for Angel to understand the real meaning of truth?
- Michael says to Angel, “Love cleanses, beloved. It doesn’t beat you down. It doesn’t cast blame… My love isn’t a weapon. It’s a lifeline. Reach out and take hold, and don’t let go” (pages 291-92). Discuss.
- Has reading Redeeming Love changed you? Moved you? Helped you to see grace and redemption in a new way? If so, how?
- Do you think the epilogue is necessary? Helpful?
- What did you think of the author’s journey in writing this book? Why do you think she had to give up writing all together for a time?
Redeeming Love: A Novel, Francine Rivers (Monarch, ISBN 9781854246592)