Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: The God Who Weeps

The God Who Weeps: How Mormons Make Sense of Life by Terryl and Fiona Givens*

I have yet to find an adequate summary of this book anywhere online, and I'm not sure if I can come up with an adequate summary myself. The best I can say is that this is a philosophical discussion of large theological issues (the purpose of pain and suffering, the reality of a pre/post earth life, etc.) presented through the lens of Mormon belief. But this is not a book meant for Mormons only. Quoting and responding to the ideas of great thinkers and writers throughout history, this book reaches out to the rest of Christianity, and the world at large, as a powerful explanation of a beautiful view of life.

I'm not sure that I should be reviewing this book right now. I only finished it a few days ago, and I feel like I need to read it over and over again to really let these ideas sink in and respond to them in any kind of coherent way. This slim volume was so densely packed with incredible thoughts expressed in such poetic prose, I don't quite feel like I will do this book justice, but I do feel the need to get some thoughts down.

First off, I should say that there are many small issues that I have with my religion. There are things in our history, our culture, and even our doctrine that I don't fully understand or that don't sit well with me. But what the Givens present in this book is exactly what I love about my religion, and why I believe it. They express here the larger picture of God, and our life here on earth, that Mormon doctrine explains in a way that makes so much sense to me. They explain a loving God who feels pain, a God who has plumbed the depths of sorrow in order that he might empathize with us. This is a God who does not take our pain away because we must know pain to know joy. We must experience sorrow to understand happiness. And we must know these things to become more like our God. It is an absolutely beautiful conception of God, and one that feels right and true deep down in my gut.

Honestly, their explanations of the purpose of pain and sorrow made me feel a little nervous about my own relatively easy life. I will be the first to admit that I have been blessed with many advantages, and have had to face very few hard things. But after reading their beautiful conception of pain as an agent that allows us to understand others more deeply, experience joy more fully, and connect to divinity more completely, I almost wished I had a few more trials in my life. Now, I'm not actually brave enough to seriously ask God for more trials-- I will cling to my life of ease as long as I can have it-- but I hope if I ever do face pain and sorrow I will be able to turn to these words for comfort and edification. They were truly comforting.

The Givens also discuss the Mormon view of other conflicting Christian doctrines like how we celebrate Eve's choice as being one of courage and progress, not sin and digression (I loved their discussion of the central role of agency and choice in this process of life). Or how we reach out to and perform the saving ordinances for our dead to claim all the souls who did not receive the gospel in this life. And of course, central to this whole plan is the idea of relationships and family and learning to love others with the deep love of God. Because that is our conception of heaven-- dwelling with our families in eternal love. Of course, the Givens can say it so much more eloquently than I can, so here are just a few of my favorite quotes:

"The ancient philosopher Plato... thought life was most likely a choice-- even the circumstances of our birth and lot in life. He described a scenario in which spirits were allowed to select their lives from a range of situations and environments. Intuitively, most would choose the easy and attractive path through mortality, but Plato indicates that-- contrary to expectations-- the comfortable, effortless life was, in all likelihood, not the life most wisely chosen. ... Plato's reflections should give us pause and invite both humility and hope. Humility, because if we chose our lot in life, there is every reason to suspect merit, and not disfavor, is behind disadvantaged birth."

"God is not exempt from emotional pain. Exempt? On the contrary, God's pain is as infinite as His love. He weeps because He feels compassion."

"The human capacity to suffer pain at the distress of a loved one is an imperfect shadow of the unfathomable grief a perfect being feels when His creations put themselves beyond His healing embrace."

"Relationships are the core of our existence because they are the core of God's, and we are in His image. God's nature and life are the simple extension of that which is most elemental, and most worthwhile, about our life here on earth. However rapturous or imperfect, fulsome or shattered, our knowledge of love has been, we sense it is the very basis and purpose of our existence."

"Perhaps truly there are religious advantages to doubt. Perhaps only a doubter can appreciate the miracle of life without end. ... And yet, what we have presented is a version of life's meaning that makes sense to us. We find it reasonable, and resonant-- a song that runs deeper than memory."

Okay, there are so many more, but five quotes are enough for now. These probably aren't even the best quotes I could find, these are just the ones that popped out as I flipped back through. Basically the whole book could be highlighted.

This book was not perfect. I'm not sure the thoughts were as organized as they could have been (this is very much a free-flowing essay form), and there were some issues I wish they would have explained more that they only skimmed over (the concept of a Heavenly Mother for one, though that is a bit of a taboo topic). But, it has been a long time since I have read a book that has made me think so much. I was allowed to reexamine my own faith and relationship with Mormon doctrine, and it was certainly a growing experience for me. And a beautiful, inspiring experience. I am so grateful I got to read this book and think these thoughts that were higher than my own.

Five stars, and I highly recommend this book to anyone, Mormon or otherwise, who is interested in examining the large questions of life, God, and religion.

*Note: I've mentioned this before, but for clarification: I am a practicing, believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or a Mormon. If you have questions about my beliefs or would like further information, please feel free to contact me.

1 comment:

  1. I recently finished this book as well and loved it. I haven't reviewed it yet because I feel rather overwhelmed with summing up my feelings about it (and I already feel like I need to reread it!).