A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

“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 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.

24 Comments

  1. Still Scared but you can call me Cindy

    I have not read the book but if that is how he describes Naomi, I doubt I ever will. I love Naomi! I read Gladys Malvern’s “The Foreigner” when I was a new christian and it has forever colored my picture of Ruth and Naomi and I love them both.

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you Ellie, I think you are using a discerning heart and mind through God’s word and are right to be alarmed by this book. (I have not read it, I’m going off your post.)

    The story of Naomi and Ruth is nothing like the description the author wrote and steals the essence of it. Naomi is honest, she admits she’s bitter, she cares about her daughter-in-laws enough to not force them to come with her. Do you think the trip would have been easier on her if she were alone? Broken and hopeless and older now she still doesn’t want to force these younger women into a life of hardship. She implores them to go back to where there is safety and hope (their families). A selfish person wouldn’t even care about her daughter-in-laws and would more than likely try to entice them to go with her to make her life easier. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE. The LOVE of these women for each other! How Ruth so loves Naomi and reassures her that she, with full knowledge and by her own choice, wants nothing more than to be with Naomi. Do you think that God didn’t put these two women together in the first place? Do you think that God didn’t know that these two women would need each other, love each other so deeply, and that it would be a blessing to both of them in the end?

    We don’t know many things about these women such as if Ruth had been abused by her family of origin and Naomi had been like a real mother to her or how long she’d been married to Naomi’s son before he died or how long he’d been dead and Ruth and Naomi had been friends etc. But whatever the case, Ruth was committed to Naomi, and this could have been due to Naomi’s loving care over many years. And if Naomi was bitter due to all the real trauma she’d suffered, don’t you think Ruth was compassionate to know that for Naomi to be so bitter was out of character for her and it made Ruth that much more concerned about her?

    These are just a few of the many things to consider about this story but prayfully read this book and ask God to show you his truth. This is one of my favorite books in the Bible because God so loved them, as he so loves us.

  3. joepote01

    “But as soon as one spouse begins to do hesed, the bad marriage disappears.”

    In a nutshell, this is the fundamental flaw in the thinking of the many Christians who always oppose divorce and always support reconciliation, regardless of circumstances. They do this because they believe the above statement to be true…that one spouse consistently acting in lovingkindess toward the other is all that is needed to change the bad (including abusive) marriage into a good one.

    This is flawed thinking…and it is not biblical.

    Could anyone possibly demonstrate lovingkindness better or more consistently than our gracious God? Certainly not! God is the source of our lovingkindness. As John said, “Beloved let us love one another. For love is of God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).

    God, in His lovingkindess, “remembered His covenant with Abraham” (Exodus 2:24) and redeemed and delivered the Israelites from Egypt. God then cut a new covenant with the Israelites, calling them His people…His nation. God, in His lovingkindness toward Israel, provided for them in the wilderness, protected them from enemies, led them victoriously into the Promised Land, and blessed them in their new homes.

    Yet, despite the lovingkindness consistently demonstrated to them by their covenant partner, their Lord God Jehovah, the Israelites repeatedly turned away from God and worshipped false gods made of wood, metal and stone. They violated their covenant vows so many times that God eventually said, “And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also” (Jeremiah 3:8).

    So…here’s my question to those who believe every marriage can be renewed by the lovingkindness of one spouse:

    Do you believe God failed to adequately demonstrate lovingkindness to Israel? Or do you believe you are capable of a more perfect love than God Himself?

    • Seeing Clearly

      “Entitlement” is an important word in the critique of the book. Can this word be used as one definition of the Jews attitude, thinking they could have God and other gods at the same time?

      • joepote01

        Oh, absolutely! Abuse of a covenant is always a function of a spirit of entitlement…a belief that by the abuser that the covenant vows apply to their partner but not to them…that they can rely on protection under the covenant without honoring the covenant.

    • learning2bfree

      Joe this is a great question. I love it!

      • joepote01

        It’s all about perspective… 😉

  4. Anonymous

    Ellie, You are brave to be able to sit through this Bible Study. I don’t know that I could do that with all that you’ve described about the book. Sadly, I still have not found a ‘fellowship’ in which I feel safe.
    The book of Ruth has always been one of my favourites and I shudder when many take the liberty to misrepresent what God has wanted shown from it’s pages:-(
    Thank you for this post and review.

  5. Wisdomchaser

    This is good thank you Ellie. A reminder to everyone to go to Amazon and press the helpful button. I just did that.

    • joepote01

      Thanks for the reminder, WC!

  6. thepersistentwidow

    Ellie, I am so glad that you were present to be the voice of discernment in that ladies’ book study. There is a real danger in these group studies where books like this are digested as though they were authoritative truth, which unfortunately, seems to happen frequently. I have two observations concerning Miller’s book:

    First, it seems to me that Miller has a low view of women. If he thinks that Naomi is a bitter person while she is mourning, what does that imply concerning the victim of abuse? If she can’t “fix” the abuser through hesed love is she bitter if she reveals her real emotions, too?

    Second, I think Miller is lacking life experiences and biblical instruction to write logically on the subjects he presents in this book. You have done a great job in revealing Miller as uninformed and ridiculous. Just goes to prove that just because someone writes a book, it doesn’t mean that they should have.

    • Ellie

      I wasn’t the only one in the study who had issues with the book. I expressed my concerns to the leadership and they treated me with respect. The lesson centered around Naomi’s behavior went in a different direction than the author’s spurious depiction of her. And I overheard several other women taking issue with Miller’s accusations against Naomi. We are free to speak our hearts and work through things like this without being accused of divisiveness. I am very blessed to be in a fellowship where there are many wise people.

      I have a friend whose father has dementia and he forgets who his wife is. He is very suspicious of her and he pesters her all day by accusing her of stealing and wondering who pays her to be there. This book would be a great encouragement to a spouse in that kind of situation. That’s why I gave it 2 stars. But in the hands of an abuser, an abuser’s ally, or a well meaning but uninformed person, this book could be lethal to a target of abuse.

  7. Barnabasintraining

    But as soon as one spouse begins to do hesed, the bad marriage disappears.

    I find this statement shocking. Did God not demonstrate loyal love to the 10 Northern Tribes? Did that make His bad marriage disappear? Clearly not. How dare Miller say human hesed would make a bad marriage disappear when God’s own perfect holy hesed did not have this effect with Israel.

    For this hesed quote alone I would say this is not going to be a good book for anyone, whether or not they are in an abusive relationship. I think this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    • joepote01

      I completely agree, BIT!

      • Ellie

        Yeah, I put the book in the freezer for a while after that bit. But I soldiered on and finished it. And I’m glad I did so that I could share my thoughts with y’all (and Amazon).

  8. Anonymous

    Surprise, surprise – yet another book that doesn’t understand the difference between marriage abuse and marriage conflicts. Is this going to be added to the list of marriage books to be wary of?

  9. Brenda R

    I think I will put this one on my ‘books not to read list’ and move on. Thank you, Ellie for the heads up.

  10. Valerie

    If I had a free counseling session for every time I read/hear the reference to abuse being only physical I would be completely healed by now.

    It is so incredibly frustrating that this mindset is so prevalent. Life with my abusive husband was like being in an international airport after a flight lands and walking with multiple bags against the flow of hurried traffic coming at you. My abuser positioned a single golf club on top of the suitcases perpendicularly just to add to the fun. Getting pushed and shoved and having your stomach perpetually tense trying to get to some place of safety and out of the chaos while those around you only scoff at you for being too stupid or too arrogant for purposely walking the wrong way (as my abuser did). Now the church by and large is doing the same to the targets of abuse- all while giving us additional cumbersome golf clubs and sending us into traffic the wrong way.

    This kind of mindset is incredibly frustrating and demotivating. But I have to admit that I could very well have been (and possibly was) one who shared that mindset due to my ignorance. I chose to get my daily ration of truth from the pulpit and whatever else I read because I didn’t trust my walk with God enough to feel confident to hear His voice directly through his Word- esp if it contradicted what I had heard from “more seasoned” Christians. We have to know God enough to have discernment to recognize if we are being deceived! After all, those who are deceiving us (knowingly or not) are not going to be the ones to help us realize the deception!

    So as I consider this post today I will focus on where God has brought me. Consider it all joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds, knowing the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Now I’m not saying let’s sit and take this hardship quietly like good little Christians and be joyful about abuse. I consider the JOY I have in knowing I am now God’s sheep and not the sheep of the church at large. My faith has been tested and as a result has grown. I am now free to follow the right shepherd. Praise God!

    • Seeing Clearly

      “Life in an international airport” is a great depiction of your life experience. It is a great depiction of many of us. We felt your words, mentally, emotionally and physically. It isn’t always that ‘c’hurch teachers are more spiritually mature and knowledgeable. but more so that they tend not to affirm others in their knowledge. God can talk to you at a very deep level. Go there to hear him, it cuts out a lot of the “c”hurch static.

    • Good metaphor!
      When I get off an international flight, I am usually feeling so air-sick from the descent that my guts and head are spinning.
      I have been known to find a bit of bare floor and lay down on my back spread eagled on it, with my eyes closed, clutching my bag handles so they don’t get stolen, and just lie there with my eyes shut concentrating on the flat stable ground underneath me, until my inner ears get stabilized and the world stops spinning.

      I am not one who cares much what I look like to others!

      It’s a fitting continuation of your metaphor, Valerie.

  11. Happy2bHere

    Thank you for this review, yet another book to avoid. Probably another reason why so many are misinformed on domestic abuse. I guess I’m glad at least the author said to call the police should physical violence happen. For me 2 out of my 4 calls to the police were helpful. My abuser alert went off based on what one of the officers said to me. I guess like the rest of the population there will be abusers. The helpful officers made sure my children and I were okay, and hardly let my husband speak. They already knew what he’s made of. Every time I hear of horrible books like these it hurts to think of it going into the hands of someone trying to see through the fog and incorrectly teaching people who could be a support. I guess I’m no longer a “nag” because I try to avoid conversation and I already know the result I’m going to get. I’d like the author to ask me what I was actually nagging about. You know, stop fault finding things I do every day, when I’m ill could you please help me just a little, why do you get to control all the finances, and on and on…

  12. Ann

    A reader on another blog [felt the article posted “Make Him Want You” (keeping romance alive)] was just making it harder on women than they already have it. Another reader left the following comment. It left me with a pit in my stomach, here we go again, it’s all up to the women to make their marriages work. BLECH!:

    [NOTE from JeffC – We want readers to understand that the following quotes are rejected by Ann, not endorsed. She is quoting them to give examples of very, very damaging teaching] —

    “The key to a guys heart is RESPECT…respect to a man is what love is to a woman…other great books I suggest you read that would change your life…and eventually your marriage….is Called To Be His Helpmeet……Love And Respect…..The Respect Dare….The Surrendered Wife…are a few great ones….please let me know how I can help you further….the journey will be painful…but it will be glorious in the end…when you realize that Marriage is all about you and Christ….YOU CAN WIN YOUR HUSBAND WITHOUT A WORD…WHEN HE OBSERVES YOUR CHASTE AND BEAUTIFUL BEHAVIOR….That truth is in the bible…Love you in Christ…and we all as women have been at that place..but there is HOPE!!!!…YOU ARE NOT IN THIS ALONE!!….
    Thank you Gary for sharing your heart…all men think this way…it is normal…and that is how God created men…..men are the Pursuers….and if we seek Godly wisdom and counsel as wives…and try to listen from the men’s perspective..we will make for better homes, wives, mothers and marriages. I pray that hurting women would come to the realization that God gave us the power as women to make or break our marriage…it is all about how we influence our husbands…we can do so for the better or from the worst.”

    • Ann,

      BLECH, indeed! Just today I was listening to a lecture by Lundy Bancroft where he says “The woman-blaming habits go so deep.”

      Our society is so entrenched with the victim-blaming — woman-blaming — mentality that it has even penetrated the church. What that commenter doesn’t realize is that she is being influenced more by society than by Scripture.

    • Brenda R

      it’s all up to the women to make their marriages work. BLECH!:
      Ann, It takes 3, God, the husband and the wife. The x didn’t do a thing to make the marriage work and he still thinks that I will someday come back or we can be friends. Double Blech!! and as for all of those books, Triple Blech!!!!!

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