By Jacob Sahms

The cinematic version of Francine Rivers’ bestselling novel Redeeming Love shines a light, beginning dimly and finally blazing. Abigail Cowen is Angel Cowen, a hard-luck woman who finds herself left with only her body as a means to get by in the 1850s Gold Rush. But her saving grace – even though she first doesn’t know it and later resents it – is Michael Hosea (Tom Lewis), who recognizes that God is calling him to marry Angel, even though she’s a prostitute. Fans of the film, and audiences looking for an intense, gritty translation of the book of Hosea, will find a western film like nothing they’ve seen before.

Angel’s life is doomed from an early age, thanks to the adulterous relationship that her mother Mae (Nina Dobrev) had, resulting in her birth. She watches as her biological father abuses her mother; she’s left to fend for herself when her mother dies. All this the audience learns in flashbacks, as the older Angel reflects on her tragic life from the bed where she sells herself. But Hosea is the answer to prayers that Angel doesn’t know how to pray — she’s tied down by “God’s truth,” a phrase one of her influences uses to explain that men only care about women for sex. She believes that to be true– and, quite frankly, ninety percent of the men she meets only care about using her or controlling her.

If the subject matter alone doesn’t tell you, then let’s make this clear: the film doesn’t leave much to the imagination while also toeing the line of a PG-13 film. There’s skin revealed and violence shown, without crossing into R-rated territory, but the audience will be completely convinced of the terrible existence that Angel endures. This is gritty, dangerous territory, exactly like the subject matter of the book of Hosea as a testament to the way that God faithfully loves infidelity-inclined Israel.

And that’s what should stick to the audience’s soul after the credits roll. Michael Hosea isn’t perfect, but he is loving, forgiving, and relentless in his pursuit of what God is calling him to do. He doesn’t give up; he doesn’t let his own hurt overcome his desire to do the right, noble, faithful, loving thing. And that’s Hosea’s story, as an instrument of God’s love and faithfulness to us as human beings. Grace wins!

Too often, we show the grit or we show the glory when telling Christian stories in film. Redeeming Love shows the transition from grit to glory, from ashamed, broken, and abused to forgiven, restored, and perfectly loved. That alone should put it squarely on your list of potential films to watch in 2022. Add in the fact that Michael Hosea’s love for Angel doesn’t just transform her life, but multiplies in saving the lives and souls of others, and this might be one of the most Christian parables of all time.

Redeeming Love is rated PG-13 (Partial Nudity|Mature Thematic Content|Sexual Content|Strong Violent Content). It includes implied pedophilia, a hanging, and abuse.