Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, which has sold more than a million copies since it was first published in 1997, is a fictional retelling of the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer told in the Old Testament book of Hosea. Instructed by God, Hosea marries the prostitute Gomer and eventually redeems her, mirroring the story of God’s redeeming love for Israel.

Rivers talked to PW about Redeeming Love, and Christian fiction.

PW: What prompted you to fictionalize the Hosea and Gomer story?

FR: My husband and I were struggling in our personal and married lives. We sold our home in Southern California and moved to Sonoma County, but outside changes like that don’t answer the inner angst and restlessness that has to do with the heart and soul. It was through a neighborhood church and the pastor’s willingness to teach a Bible study in our home that gave us personal direction and saved our marriage. The study of Hosea literally turned my life around. God made the prophet’s life an allegory to give us a clearer picture of how much He loves each of us. Writing Redeeming Love was my way of sharing what real love looks like: a consuming fire, abiding, sacrificial, faithful, and everlasting.

PW: What responses have you gotten from readers?

FR: All through the years, I’ve received many letters from readers who have shared their stories of brokenness and how they identify with former prostitute Angel’s struggles. Many long to meet someone like Michael Hosea. That offers me an opportunity to write back and tell them they can. His name is Jesus.

PW: Why do you think Redeeming Love remains so popular today?

FR: I think the appeal of Michael and Angel’s love story mirrors the hunger and thirst most people have for the kind of love only God can give. Love isn’t merely a feeling. Love is shown by how we act toward one another. Love that lasts is anchored in faith in the One who loves us before we ever loved Him.

PW: Why is it important to address gritty topics in Christian fiction?

FR: Life is gritty. It can be like picking your way through thorn bushes to get to a stream for a drink of living water. My books usually start with an unanswered question in my own life. Each character is playing out a different answer. Each project is a personal quest; writing, the tool to seek answers.

PW: How do you find the balance between writing about tough things and keeping gentler readers happy?

FR: I don’t write for the market. I write to find answers and to seek God’s perspective. Even gentler readers struggle with the same questions I do. I’m not trying to make readers happy. I want them to be as challenged as I am to seek answers from a book that has been a bestseller for centuries.

PW: Where do you see Christian fiction going?

FR: Christian writers will continue to address the tougher, grittier topics with grace and truth. The question is whether publishers will have the courage to let God’s Word be the foundation. If not, I see a much larger future for indie publishing. As for me and many writers I know, we want to spread the good news that can bring down the walls between people. Hate seems to be on the throne right now; but love always wins in the end.