Sometimes I wish I was a fiction writer, specializing in Christian novels because hard truths are often better conveyed in a novel where people don’t feel threatened and may actually take a moment to contemplate their faith in an unchanging God. Such is the case with “The Atonement Child” by Francine Rivers, a book about rape, pregnancy, and abortion, but so much more!
The story is of a young girl, Dynah, raised in a Christian home, never knowing a time in her life when she did not know Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior. She loved Him with her whole being, worked at a nursing care facility while attending a Christian college, and was engaged to be married to the love of her life, a future pastor, the next summer. One night because her car was in the shop, Dynah decides to walk to the bus stop alone instead of calling for a ride from her fiancé or friends. She was advised by one of the residents to wait for someone or ask a co-worker for a ride but she doesn’t want to bother anyone. She was ever mindful of the dangers lurking in the shadows but was confident of her safety as she trusted God to protect her in every situation.
Unfortunately, this particular night Dynah was violently attacked, raped, and later discovered she was pregnant. This book is a very true to life account of this young woman’s journey, one most of us will never take, but will probably all have opportunity to be part of someone else’s similar journey. This story probes the very heart of one of the most sensitive yet volatile subjects of our generation, abortion. When considering the whole topic of abortion, one must know more than the facts, since if that were enough, this multi-million industry would have been out of business decades ago when medical science itself proved life begins at conception.
Anyone who knows what goes into writing knows it is hard work. A good novelist does much research, talks with experts, gathers facts, gains access to the subject matter through interviews and gives readers an up close, accurate, and often personal account of real life. Francine weaves information about abortion as a whole throughout this novel; physical, financial, moral, psychological, relational, and most importantly for Christians, theological. Abortion affects everyone!
Though this story is fictional, it helps us discover what we really believe about life and death. Christians often get sloppy in their faith when “difficult” real life situations hit home in their own lives. In other words, Christians will stand on the Word until someone close to us is affected. For example, Bible believing Christians know homosexuality is sin, but when a family member is actively living that lifestyle, some Christians waver in their belief, entertaining the idea perhaps God made them that way. Christians know sex outside of marriage is wrong but if it is financially convenient or if people are really in love and planning on getting married someday, it only makes sense to live together as husband and wife before actually tying the knot. Christians can know and believe God hates divorce until there are irreconcilable differences, then we say God makes exceptions. We may know and believe ending life through abortion is murder but if a young girl gets pregnant as a result of a brutal rape, naturally we assume this can’t be God’s will so abortion is acceptable in this situation. How confusing this attitude is for believers and non-believers alike!
This is just one of the many conflicts Francine Rivers tackles in this story. Dynah witnesses all her friends and family “changing” their views on abortion once it is discovered she is pregnant from rape. Where once they were all opposed to abortion, suddenly they not only advise her to get an abortion, but encourage her to get rid of “it”, even suggesting it is God’s will. Where once her fiancé believed God has a plan and purpose for everything that happens in life, suddenly this was not part of the plan and purpose. Where once people were sure of God’s plans for her future, suddenly they didn’t know what His plans were.
Dynah’s story begins with her decision immediately after the attack not to follow the doctor’s advice to take the “morning after” pill in the unlikely event she was pregnant as a result of the rape. Her cries to God often resulted in silence, at other times He spoke His words of promise, and at other times He gave direction. She felt alone, void of His presence, questioned what she had done wrong to deserve such treatment, got angry, confused, depressed, and felt abandoned.
We all feel this quandary of questions and emotions in times of crisis, yet, through Dynah’s story, we get a real-life glimpse into a true personal relationship with Jesus. Hearing His still small voice in her journey of pain was difficult because of all the very loud voices of reason from the hospital staff, police, college leaders, friends, parents, and her fiancé to get rid of this “problem” sooner than later. But it was Jesus who was there, who stood firm, who was unwavering, and who didn’t change His plan for Dynah because of the sin of this one man who changed the course of her life when he raped her.
God’s Word is truth. If He means for there to be exceptions to the rule, He makes sure we know them. This book goes tenderly yet vividly through the myriad of emotions of both the “victim” and those who love the “victim”. It is a tough read no matter who you most closely identify, be it her fiancé who couldn’t manage to live with the reality because of his reputation; to her parents who didn’t want the responsibility of raising a child from rape and wanted to save their daughter the pain of an unwanted child; to the pastors who felt it wasn’t their place to tell hold her firmly to the truth of God’s Word while standing with her if it was just too much of a burden; to her friends who just wanted to help her “get rid of the problem”; to Mom and Grandma who went through it themselves but didn’t want to expose their own deep dark secretes in fear of the pain it surfaced for them as well as what others would think.
In times of crisis we discover we often do not believe what we say we believe when times are good. Dynah is a shining example of coming through the valley of the shadow of death by walking closely with God even when she couldn’t hear or feel Him; even when she didn’t understand; even when she felt alone and abandoned; even when she felt it wasn’t fair. She held on faith in a God who never let her down, whose Word is true, whose truths were unwavering even if not understood. She waited on Him to speak every time – when He was silent she did nothing. When He spoke she was quick to obey.
At one point in the story as Dynah is in the abortion clinic with her mom when God speaks “No, there’s another way.” Listening to Him caused anger to rise up since she didn’t know what the other way was or where it would lead. Plus, she was unaccustomed to feeling angry with God. Her struggle is real, engaging, and true to life. He tells her to come out from among them and be separate. That meant she needed to leave those who were speaking in love, but were lying to her because of their own lack of faith.
Christians must learn to wait on God, to listen, to accept just the next directive. God rarely lays out His whole plan for us. We couldn’t handle it. But if commit to knowing His Word,stand on it, be honest and raw in His presence, and then let Him have His way instead of making our own way, my, life would be so different for people. This book is a soulful search for truth in the midst of unjust events. Where is God when we are violated? If God has a plan to prosper and not harm us, to give us hope and a future, what is His plan with rape, incest, and pregnancy as a result?
I personally LOVE tackling these questions anytime and anywhere. But perhaps a novel is a safer place for most people to explore those questions. This is a great read for any one who has been raped, experienced unwanted pregnancies, had an abortion, or struggled with the possibility of abortion. God’s Word is true and doesn’t change no matter how hard life gets. But that’s a good thing! He will walk us through the valley of the shadow of death and He does have a plan for our lives.
Our biblical views are challenged when “bad” things happen to those we love the most. The question is do we change our beliefs to handle the things in life that are contrary to God’s Word? Do we compromise and rationalize the Word of God to supposedly make people feel better or accept them? Doing so only leads to further deception and separation from the One who loves you most.
We can be a blessing to people who have been victimized without changing God’s Word! We can be compassionate and truthful at the same time! Dynah stepped out of victimization by keeping in step with the Savior of her soul. It was a tough journey, and her life changed dramatically, but in step with Jesus, everything would be alright. Yes, it’s a novel! But how many Dynah’s do you know? How many do you want to know? How involved do you want to be?
These were just my thoughts as I read this book on Black Friday, the day retailers hope to end the year financially in the “black” not in the “red”. As Christians, we have opportunity to end every day in the “black” because of the “red” blood Jesus shed on the cross for us, to forgive, cleanse, renew, and redeem us! Our part is to hear His voice and follow!