Book Review: Love Walked Among Us
This is Caroline Bennighof's review of Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus by Paul Miller (NavPress, 2001, 224 pages). You can purchase a copy of Love Walked Among Us online or in our church bookstore.
Paul Miller’s book Love Walked Among Us is a study of Jesus and how he loved people during his ministry on earth. If you hit the roadblocks of selfishness, apathy, or tiredness when you try to love people, you will be refreshed by the hope and grace held out to believers in its pages.
Miller speaks first to our inherent ineffectiveness at loving. All of us are lacking in love; we are guilty of legalism and self-righteousness. Do not read a single page of this book if you want to leave your ego with a leg to stand on. Miller’s writing exposes hidden hypocrisy for what it is. I find I am no better than the Pharisees, slipping in a word here or there to boost my own reputation at the expense of others, or loving rules more than individuals. But Miller goes on to emphasize that by his mercy God does not leave us alone in our helplessness. He provides his righteous Son. In five overarching sections, Miller uses Scripture to show how Jesus’ love shows compassion, speaks the truth, depends on God, is energized by faith, and moves through death into life.
Paul Miller notices that love starts with looking. As followers of Christ we must first look beyond ourselves to see people – rather than just seeing needs or categories. Love first looks, and then moves towards people with honesty and compassion; both parts are crucial. “Beam research” is a term Miller has coined from Jesus’ familiar words in his Sermon on the Mount: “First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Faced with the temptation to accuse out of self-righteousness, Miller describes how he has learned to first do “beam research” and ask himself when he has recently been guilty of the same sin he has noticed in another.
Reading Love Walked Among Us left me fascinated with the person of Jesus. His devotion to his Father’s will and his detachment from the fear of man enabled him to act in ways that are surprising and disarming. When praised by a crowd that wants to make him king, he slips away to a lonely place to pray. When challenged aggressively by religious leaders, he stoops down to write in the dust. When accosted by a leper, he touches him without fear. His dependence on God (which Miller describes as Jesus’ “center of gravity) also allows him to say “no” to the pressing demands of the crowd and “yes” to important interruptions.
Jesus routinely neglects social norms and allows people to feel uncomfortable to make his point. In his discussion of Luke 14 when Jesus chides guests for taking the higher seats at a party, Paul Miller points out that where we would probably just whisper to our spouse on the way home, Jesus addresses in the moment to the offenders. He is entirely authentic and free of the Pharisee-like masks we wear to save face. Jesus is also indisputably powerful. In the account of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4, Paul Miller points out that the disciples reprimand Jesus for sleeping in the back of the boat, because he could at least help them bail during their crisis! How often we appeal to Jesus with miniscule expectations of his power or willingness to help, not realizing that all of creation is subject to his authority!
Paul Miller excels at bringing familiar stories to life. Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry take on new layers of meaning as Miller makes sense of them in sequence and provides the reader with some historical context. Furthermore, every point that Miller makes is backed up by Scripture – by the character of Jesus himself. Miller also grounds theoretical concepts in relatable everyday family situations. He consistently finds himself guilty of failing to love people, and then points to Jesus’ perfect love as the answer.
Miller does not communicate a worldly message of “try harder.” The reader puts the book down every time with a deep sense of his own inadequacy, but a deeper sense of God’s overwhelming power and perfection. The reader must agree with Napoleon (quoted by Miller in Love Walked Among Us) when he said after a reading of the Gospels: “I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man… Everything in him astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me. Between him and whoever else in the world, there is no possible term of comparison.”