Love is a complicated subject. We often lightly pass it off. There is a holiday next week that gets plenty of hype from retailers so they can make a lot of money. In 2020, a month before the country “shut down” because of Covid, the National Retail Federation (NRF) says Americans spent $27.4 billion on Valentine’s Day. Last year the NRF reports they spent more than $21 billion. We have yet to see how much will be spent this year. One wonders how many of the relationships celebrated this year will even exist next year. 

We pass love off lightly by introducing young children to romance stories. Think of all the fairy tales of princesses and princes who find one another and in the name of love, live happily ever after. Think of every Disney movie. Consider the popular love songs that are a part of every generation. Movies, books; all of them speak of it. Today our culture’s view of love has deteriorated to the point that commitment is becoming obsolete. Rather, jumping into a sexual relationship without strings attached is the new normal.

God is love, as First John four articulates so well. He is the author of love, the only perfect lover. One of the best biblical descriptions of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13 and by its definition is vastly removed from what the notion of love is in our world today. We have not handled love well, including romantic love. Here are some shocking statistics on how love in the world is currently playing out. According to a Pew Research study, “fewer Americans now mention spouses or romantic partners as a source of meaning in life, just 9%, down from 20% in 2017.” 

“ In the United States, about 50% of married couples divorce, the sixth-highest divorce rate in the world. ”


Marriage has also taken a turn for the worse. Pew Research reports “The share of adults ages 25 to 54 who are currently married fell from 67% in 1990 to 53% in 2019, while the share cohabiting more than doubled over that same period.”'%20marital%20and%20living%20arrangements,to%209%25%20in%202019

Marriages continue to end in divorce at high rates as well. “In the United States, about 50% of married couples divorce, the sixth-highest divorce rate in the world. Subsequent marriages have an even higher divorce rate: 60% of second marriages end in divorce, and 73% of all third marriages end in divorce.” 

Happy Valentine’s Day! But as Christians we should know that love not modeled after God’s love is not love at all. It is an imposter! What we as Christians have tangled up in our thinking is that romantic love is something separate from God’s love and that it is up to us to make a go of romance or even perhaps tire of it while God sits by on the sidelines and watches. When our relationships start to go awry, we blame the other person, not even having truly used God’s standards to love the other person, and we somehow feel justified in walking away.

We wait for another person to come along that we think might work out better, never stopping to consider that maybe we have no idea about love. I remember thinking after my marriage ended that it would definitely be wrong for me to now hate my ex-spouse. After all I had promised to love him forever and even though he walked away and we weren’t married anymore, I didn’t think that should allow me or any other believer in a similar situation to just withdraw emotionally, refuse to forgive, bad mouth him behind his back, and never again care about his welfare, particularly his soul. But I wasn’t sure how to go about this, how to think it through and I never heard anyone really discuss it from that angle. 

“ Naïve expectations make us high maintenance and supersensitive. ”


That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I ran across the book years ago, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul E. Miller (Crossway, 2014). It is based on the Book of Ruth and recently when I had come to the Book of Ruth in my personal Bible reading, I decided to pull out this book and read it for maybe the third or fourth time alongside. I don’t think it ever loses its punch, no matter what’s happening in your life love-wise.  

In the introduction, Miller speaks about how our culture has built up our romantic notions on unrealistic dreams and expectations. He writes, “Naïve expectations make us high maintenance and supersensitive. Human frailty makes us cynical, doubting the possibility of love. The new American journey is from naivete to cynicism. The result? We feel abused, betrayed, and bitter. It was better not to have dreamed.  The magic is gone.”

Part One of the book is titled, “Committed Love.” Miller writes the background of the Book of Ruth, the story of Naomi and Elimelech leaving their home town in Judah (leaving the nation under God’s protection) and living with their sons among foreigners in another country, their sons taking wives from the new country. Then all the men in the family die over a short period of time and the women are left to fend for themselves in a culture where they could expect nothing more than poor and dire living conditions. And no children to carry on the family name. In those days that was very important.

“ [D]ying to ourselves is actually the beginning of our ability to love. ”


Such hopeless situations, according to Miller, are the basis for each of us to truly recognize and understand love. “As we endure, as we keep showing up for life when it makes no sense, we learn to love, and God shows up too….The gospel is real divine hope—God breaking through into the story of my life, creating resurrection. This glimmer of resurrection hints of good things to come,” Miller writes. For Naomi the glimmer begins when Ruth insists on returning to Judah with her. Ruth’s love brings the strongest hope Naomi has experienced in a long time. For Ruth, realizing Naomi’s helpless state and caring about her, binding herself unselfishly and humbly to Naomi, she practices love. This in turn promotes a growing sense of the Israelites’ God of love and wanting to know Him more. She is willing to leave her own country and go to the country of His people.

Miller introduces the word hesed—the Hebrew word used in the Book of Ruth for love. But in the original language, it has a deeper meaning, combining love, loyalty, steadfast love, and commitment with sacrifice. “Hesed is a stubborn love,” writes Miller. Then he uses a helpful diagram to show us that dying to ourselves is actually the beginning of our ability to love. We should know that. Christ certainly showed us that—He, God, humbly living three decades on this earth. Leaving His Father and the glory of His heavenly home to walk among sinful men. Then, loving them so much that he willingly gave His life to redeem them, purify them, and make them His very own family—taking them to live forever with him, sharing His glory with those who certainly did nothing to deserve it.

How differently we would view our marriages, our fellow believers, our families, our personal relationships, if we understood better the definition of God’s love. If we paid more attention to how we are loved. Miller explains, “God is trapped by his love for us. God is bound to us in hesed love. Jeremiah 31:3 says, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love [hesed]; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.’”

“ Your life energy needs to come from God, not the person you are loving. ”


This may seem difficult to practice in our relationships, especially when loving someone is hard, and so the second section of the book is titled, “The Shape of the Journey.” But Miller writes, “You endure the weight of love by being rooted in God. Your life energy needs to come from God, not the person you are loving. The more difficult the situation, the more you are forced into utter dependence on God. That is the crucible of love, where self-confidence and pride are stripped away, because you simply do not have the power or wisdom or ability in yourself to love. You know without a shadow of a doubt that you can’t love. That is the beginning of faith—knowing you can’t love.”

There is so much to learn about love in this book. Always using scripture to support his views, Miller discusses that to love those whose hearts have been broken, our hearts must become broken, just as God’s heart has been broken for each of us. We must look to Jesus and his earthly life when we feel that we are in hopeless situations unlike anything He could have experienced. We can never forget Christ has experienced to a much more stressful and awful degree, all that we experience. Afterall, he is our Creator Who first loved us, and it can seem to us when we look at ourselves realistically, that we should be total disappointments to Him, not those He suffers and dies to save. 

Then there is the problem of loneliness—a time when we often desperately seek out love. As Ruth first walks into the field belonging to Boaz to pluck some grain for herself and Naomi—how alone she must have felt. Everyone knew she was a foreigner. The whole town knew her story. Yet, she quietly took her place behind the harvesters; Naomi needed her love. Miller says, “The very act of loving can make you lonely….But that loneliness, that dying, instead of being the end of you, can display Jesus’s beauty in you.” And we know from the Book of Ruth, that is exactly what happens for Ruth. Do I love another so much that I am willing to give up my own identity to sustain the life of someone else? I should. Jesus didn’t hesitate to do so for me. 

Do you see how we digress from God’s love in our day to day living? Do you see how sinful the love promoted by the world actually is? It is in understanding this and going against the grain of the cultural norm by repenting of our selfishness and becoming selfless lovers of those around us, that the world will see Jesus. That those we love will see Jesus. Even though our feelings may indeed be uncomfortable with what we are doing. Miller warns about putting stock in our feelings. 

“  Faith is not a feeling—it is a place where you hide, close to the heart of God... ”


“In the storm of hesed love, you hide yourself in God. He is your only refuge when you are enduring alone, without help. Faith is not a feeling—it is a place where you hide, close to the heart of God,” Miller writes. From that place, that perspective, we can truly bless those we love. Miller points out how we have trivialized the meaning of blessing. “A blessing,” he says, “is asking the living God to act, to incarnate…. It is more than wishing—it is invoking the goodness of God to be made manifest—and [for us] to be the hands that manifest it.”

“Learning to Think in Love,” is the title of the third part. Humility vs. pride, community vs. isolation; these are ways we must learn to embrace in our journey to practice hesed. As with every facet of our Christian life, obedience to God and His word is vital. But as we pursue hesed love, our faith and relationship with God will deepen. We will experience his hesed love more fully. Embracing the difficulties in loving someone will bring us closer to Christ. Finally, “love wins the day” as the title of the last section proclaims. 

Miller writes, “The Book of Ruth begins with death. It ends with resurrection.” And so, it does in our own life stories as Christians. Love, as 1 Corinthians tells us, also lasts forever. God’s love for us, ours for Him, and ours for one another. Miller closes the book by challenging us to look for the unloved, just as Jesus did, to share hesed with them. Sometimes the unloved are the very ones we have already promised to love but we haven’t done a very good job of it on our own.

I highly, highly recommend this book. I can’t think of anyone it wouldn’t benefit. It is a quick and easy read and very conversational. You’ll wonder if Miller might not be sitting on the other side of the table having coffee with you.

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