“A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships” by Paul E Miller — a review
The ladies at my church are going through A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships for a Bible study. I am participating and I will get good insight from this book I am sure. However, I see how this book could be used to condemn a person who is presently enduring abuse and the despair that accompanies being treated cruelly. So I have left this review at Amazon [Internet Archive link] and I wanted to share it with our readers here.
I don’t think Miller has a clear understanding of abuse. Every mention of abuse so far has only taken physical abuse into consideration and is followed by an instruction to call police if that ever happens. That is ignorance gone to seed. Abuse is a lot more than physical violence. “Abuse is fundamentally a mentality. It is a mindset of entitlement. The abuser sees himself as entitled. He is the center of the world, and he demands that his victim make him the center of her world. His goal is power and control over others. For him, power and control are his natural right, and he feels quite justified in using whatever means are necessary to obtain that power and control. The abuser is not hampered in these efforts by the pangs of a healthy conscience and indeed often lacks a conscience.” [definition from A Cry For Justice].
Calling the police may or may not be sufficient. Victims of abuse, and those who wonder whether they are a being abused, should also be advised to call a hotline even if they are not in any imminent danger of being assaulted. It is also good practice to advise them to make contact with their local Women’s Center that specializes in supporting women who have experienced domestic abuse. Calling police can be part of a much broader safety plan. If Miller were to work with a Women’s Shelter, just to learn that much, it would be very helpful to victims listening to him. Miller’s cursory and dismissive instruction to call police if they are physically assaulted, is not sufficient. It shows great naivety about the complexities of domestic abuse. Miller says:
A bad marriage is one where neither spouse does the hard work of love. But as soon as one spouse begins to do hesed, the bad marriage disappears. (I’m not saying this marriage is easy; just that it isn’t somehow intrinsically flawed.) We are left with the challenge of loving a difficult spouse.
Well if I could make a bad marriage disappear with hesed love, it would’ve happened in the 20 years that I did all I could think of to serve and bless my abuser. He wasn’t won over because he believed he deserved all I gave him and more, oh, and that he could pay someone to do it all and better than me. And that paying someone would be easier because then he could at least fire them. He was stuck with me and my incompetence. I was his cross to bear.
Additionally, Miller takes huge leaps and liberties with Naomi’s side of the story. He paints her as someone who needed to repent for having gone to Moab in the first place, a bitter person because she’s mourning, someone who ignored Ruth, was too lazy to go out and glean, and so on. I feel that this is to emphasize the sacrifice that Ruth made and make it look like it was hard for her to do that. I think that’s ridiculous at worst and silly at best. I have NEVER thought Naomi was sitting around while Ruth was working hard. I figured they had a Kate and Allie thing going on and Ruth hunted and gathered while Naomi tended the house and did things like keeping the fire burning, fetching water, mending clothes, cleaning clothes, etc. I feel that Miller is being unfair to Naomi and he kind of sounds like Job’s friends.
Also, I have always figured that Naomi’s husband and sons had told stories about the good old days in Bethlehem; how the widows and aliens gleaned from the corners of the fields, and so on. I think Ruth’s commitment to Naomi was admirable, but I think she also was moved by faith and by the hope of better days, not an “I HAVE to go with this nasty old woman and care for her or no one will” kind of thought.
I also feel like Miller’s present day examples of people who love in difficult circumstances are not taking depravity into account. His examples are giving everyone good intentions; the nagging wife is critical because she thinks that if her husband conforms she can love him better. That’s selfishness, not love. Miller gives her credit for loving, but in the wrong way. The only person Mrs. Nag is loving is herself. This is a huge point to me. I feel like this is almost a Cinderella story where we’re supposed to love love love serve serve serve and never take precautions to mind our boundaries to stay safe. Perhaps one day Prince Boaz will give us some barley and marry us. Or not. And we’ll just have to suck it up and call it fellowshipping in Christ’s sufferings.
There are good points in the book, but if I had read this book when I was still living with my abuser, I would’ve doubled down on the hesed love and gone even farther into the pit of despair. This is not a book for abuse victims to read.