Does God weep? Does God even care about us? Can He relate to and feel for our troubles and trials? Does God own us? Are we compelled to seek him and his will or are we truly free to choose? These are some of the questions addressed by Terryl and Fiona Givens in their book The God Who Weeps – How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life.
I am getting behind on my book notes. So, I’ll make this quick.
Finding concise, meaningful quotes from The Good Who Weeps is challenging, even painful because it is so richly intertwined with the core message. Nevertheless, let the ax fly.
On Faith and Reason
Reason must be a part of any solution to the mystery of life that we find satisfactory. A supreme deity would no more gift us with intellect and expect us to forsake it in moments of bafflement, than He would fashion us eyes to see and bid us shut them to the stars. (pg 3-4)
So must reason work with will to fashion understanding. The call to faith is a summons to engage the heart, to attune it to resonate in sympathy with principles and values and ideals that we devoutly hope are true and which we have reasonable but not certain grounds for believing to be true. There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore the most deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads. (pg 4)
Evidence does not construct itself into meaningful patterns. That is our work to perform. (pg 9)
Relationship to Christ
In all the centuries of Christian hand-wringing and breast-beating that have followed in the wake of the Adamic decision, this fact seems to have disappeared entirely. Humankind and God now share a common moral awareness, a common capacity to judge between right and wrong, a common capacity for love. (pg 20)
The story of Christ’s life . . tells us something about a particular power only made manifest in vulnerability. The paradox of Christ’s saving sway is that it operates on the basis of what the world would call weakness. Christ aimed to “draw all men unto” Himself by His ignominious crucifixion, not His triumphant resurrection. We are drawn to the suffering Christ, not the victorious Christ. (pg 29)
Only the remoteness of Golgotha in space and time, our dim and partial vision of its infinite cost, gives us now the freedom to respond with a heart that inclines or a heart that retreats. (pg 32)
In The Beginning With God
If an origin among the stars is difficult to believe, an existence thought to commence with our mortal birth has its own absurdities to contend with. . . . That a paltry creature, an anonymous urchin, may grow into a Shakespeare, a Newton, or a Mother Teresa is miracle enough. Shall we also claim the destiny of an eternal being, for a babe that springs into existence by mere happenstance? . . . How much more reasonable, it would seem, to posit an origin commensurate with our future, to place our soul’s true birth, like its potential destiny, in the divine realms. (pg 45)
We can destroy the body, but not the soul. So, too, it seems reasonable, we can clothe a soul with flesh, but cannot create the soul itself. (pg 46)
Many besides Kant have recognized the power of such reasoning. The poet Percy Shelley asked, “Have we existed before birth? . . . Does [this soul, or “principle”] see, hear, feel, before its combination with those organs on which sensation depends? Does it reason, imagine, apprehend, without those ideas which sensation alone can communicate?” He then concludes with simple logic: “If we have not exited before birth; . . . then there are no grounds for supposition that we shall continue to exist after our existence has apparently ceased.” Even the arch-skeptic David Hume found that argument appealing. holding that nature itself teaches us that “what is incorruptible must also be ingenerable [incapable of being created]. The soul, therefore, if immortal, existed before our birth.” The great Jewish rabbi Menasseh ben Israel thought premortal existence even more reasonable than postmortal existence, but certainly one had to imply the other. More recently the philosopher Bertrand Russell questions “whether it was reasonable to suppose that something immortal could just suddenly begin in time.” (pg 46)
If our life carries hidden within its core our own eternal past, then we are free in a way no alternate conception of human existence can account for. (pg 48)
One can say, God created us and He created us free. But that just substitutes a declaration for an explanation. No, if God is the sole author of all that is, then we cannot find our way clear to believe He is not responsible for our choices. The ancients knew that something is fee only if it is not caused or created by something else, and a twentieth-century philosopher wrote with stark simplicity: If God created our souls, He “could have prevented all sin by creating us with better natures and in more favorable surroundings. . . . Hence we should not be responsible for our sins to God.” (pg 48)
Sin must mean accountability, reasoned the German theologian Julius Muller. Accountability, must mean the freedom to choose. And human freedom can only have its roots “in a sphere beyond the range of time, wherein alone pure and unconditioned self-determination is possible. In this region we must seek that power of original choice.” Muller concluded, as did McTaggart and Wisdom, that the only basis for human freedom and human accountability is a human soul that existed before birth as it will after death. Moral freedom demands preexistence, and preexistence explains human freedom. (pg 51)
We Are That We Might Have Joy
Surely [universal condemnation] is a perverse vision and slander upon God. It suggests His plan was derailed before it got off the ground, that He is a brilliant repairman but a poor designer. God’s creation of the human race begins in catastrophe and is in need of salvaging. That we should be condemned, punished, accounted guilty, for crimes of our ancestors, is a concept repugnant to every conception of human justice. (pg 64)
Christ did not abandon His body after His death, but took it up again in a glorified state, and with it ascended to heaven, with a promise to return in like fashion.
We might, therefore, reasonably hypothesize that Christ saw his own incarnation as progression, rather than regression. He know only the body and soul, “inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy.” Some early church fathers saw His incarnation as ennobling the body, rather than degrading the Divine. Gregory Nazianzen wrote of a day in Christ’s mortal life, “Perhaps He goes to sleep , in order that He may bless sleep . . .; perhaps He is tired that He may hallow weariness also; perhaps He weeps that He may make tears blessed.” (pg 69)
Quoting from Berttrand Russel, The Conquest of Happiness:
“There is no abstract and impersonal proof either that strawberries are good of that they are not good. To the man who likes strawberries they are good, to the man who dislikes them they are not. But the man who likes them has a pleasure which the other does not have; to that extent his life is more enjoyable and he is better adapted to the world in which both must live. . . . The more things a man is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has.” (pg 71)
We therefore should not see the body and spirit in opposition. The fact that Christ chose children as a model for moral goodness means socialization, not incarnation, is the source of our ills. (pg 72)
None of Them Is Lost
We never operate on the basis of perfect understanding; we are never entirely free of social, cultural, and biological influences. Secondhand smoke of a thousand types complicates and compromises the degree of freedom and accountability behind human choice. (pg 87)
But the most meaningful and productive tests are those that assess with an eye to improvement, that measure in order to remedy, and that improve and prepare us for the next stage in an upward process of advancement. For these reasons, all talk of heaven that operates in terms of earning rather than becoming is misguided. Such ideas misconstrue the nature of God, His grace, and the salvation He offers. (pg 87)
All good intentions and Christ’s grace notwithstanding, whosoever chooses “to abide in sin, . . . cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy,” Heaven is a condition and a sanctified nature toward which all godly striving tends; it is not a place to be found by walking through the right door with a heavenly hall pass. (pg 89)
We cannot expect heaven if we do not choose heaven in simplest terms. (pg 89)
Granting opportunity only to those who accept Christ in the flesh seems patently unfair and inefficient. Giving amnesty to all the rest of humankind makes of Christ’s life and sacrifice a magnificent gesture but a superfluous or redundant one. A reasonable conception of God and His plan for us demands a third possibility.
. . .
Charles Beecher thought such a third way was the only reasonable alternative to mass damnation on the one hand, and a superfluous atonement on the other. A more comprehensive program than the one executed by missionaries among the living must be envisioned. In 1863, he was convicted of heresy for such a belief. The ecclesiastical court ruled that Beecher “weakens and undermines the doctrine of future punishment by teaching that the offers of salvation are made to men after death.”
. . .
Why not, asked missionary Parley Pratt, insisting the dead “not only live, move, and think but might hear the gospel. . . . We reason from what we know,” In the “spirit world societies are made up of all kinds.” Many presumably “have lived in part of the spirit worlds . . . where the key has not yet been turned nor the gospel preached.” If this is true, then the fact would explain Peter’s claim that “the gospel was preached also to them that are dad, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (pg 97)
If God’s domain does not end with our death, why should the progress of the human soul? (pg 98)
Hell, in the sense of permanent alienation from God, a stunting of one’s infinite potential, must exist as an option if freedom is to exist. That anyone would choose such a fate is hard to imagine, and yet some of us choose our own private hells often enough in the here and now. (pg 99)
God would not have commanded us to forgive each other seventy times seven, if He were not prepared to extend to us the same mathematical generosity. (pg 100)
As a mighty God, He has the capacity to save us all. As a fond father, He has the desire to do so. That is why, as Smith taught, “God hath made a provision that every spirit can be ferreted out in the world” that has not deliberately and definitively chosen to resist a grace that is stronger than the cords of death. (pg 102)
Participants In The Divine Nature
God’s title as Father is universally acknowledged throughout the Judeo-Christian traditions, but how the title is understood varies widely. We find an understanding that moves in the direction of a literal, familial relationship is more reasonable than one that emphasizes the metaphorical or figurative. Given the eternal nature of the soul, our prior existence in a “first estate” in God’s presence, the “qualitative distance” separating man from God may be great, but is not infinite. (pg 106)
In Christ’s intercessory prayer, offered in the privacy and intimacy of the last supper, rather than the public arena of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ asked God to bless His disciples with a friendship, a love and unity, that paralleled His own relationship to His Father. “The glory that you have given me I have given them,” he prayed, “so that they may be one , as we are one.” No mystical blurring of persons or unity of substance was intended here, but the perfect harmony of heart and mind. The same unity that, tellingly, He referred to elsewhere. “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart, and one mind.” That is the great mystery, that is really no mystery.” (pg 107)
A great deal is at stake in the decision to consider ourselves as pre-existing the material universe, as being co-eternal with God. The more common conception that God created the universe and everything (and everyone) in ti, called creation ex nihilo, “represented a fundamental change in the Christian understanding of the world,” according to Karen Armstrong. It “tore the universe [an us] away from God,” making the created order into “an entirely different nature than the substance of the living God.”
Making God the source of all that exists, rather than the greatest and best and wisest Being in the universe, destroyed the soul’s inherent kinship with the Divine, and introduced the “infinite qualitative difference,” the sense of God as “wholly other,” that has been common ever since. (pg 110-111)
In some cases, belief in our premortal existence was abandoned precisely because it implied a connection to the divine that was thought to be blasphemous, to spa a divide thought to be unbridgeable. (pg 111)
We humans have a lamentable tendency to spend more time theorizing the reasons behind human suffering, than working to alleviate human suffering, and in imagining a heaven above, than creating a heave in our homes and communities. (pg 112)
What we call virtues are precisely those attributes of character that best suit us to live harmoniously, even joyfully, in society. Kindness only exists when there is someone to whom we show kindness. Patience is only manifest when another calls it forth. So it is with mercy, generosity, and self-control. What we may have thought was our private pathway to salvation, was intended all along as a collaborative enterprise, though we often miss the point. The confusion is understandable, since our current generation’s preference for “spirituality” over “religion” is often a sleight of hand that confuses true discipleship with self-absorption. (pg 112-113)
Ultimately, we understand God’s nature, and human salvation, to be the simple amplification of that which is most elemental, and most worthwhile, about our life here on earth. The divine nature of man, and the divine nature of God, are shown to be the same—they are rooted in the will to love, at the price of pain, but in the certainty of joy. (pg 117)
So we learn, and we love. What we have learned, and how we have loved, endure. Those are the two constants in our continuing existence. “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.” We are not talking of just the book learning of the academy, though that knowledge has its eternal role as well. Nothing learned is wasted, since God is the Master, not the Magician, of the universe, and we strive to become like Him. That is why, as Pratt’s brother Orson taught, “The study of science is the study of something eternal. If we study astronomy, we study the works of God. If we study chemistry, geology, optics, or any other branch of science, every new truth we come to the understanding of is eternal; it is part of the great system of universal truth. It is truth that exists throughout universal nature; and God is the dispense of all truth–scientific, religious, and political.” (pg 117-118)
We believe in a heaven—and heavenly inhabitants—that are dynamic, not static, in their existence. Nothing in the ever-evolving cosmos God has fashioned, nothing in the relentless self-perfecting processes of species and individuals, nothing in the insatiable longings of the human heart, suggests otherwise. (pg 119)
What if in our anxious hope of heaven, we find we have blindly passed [it]? What if the possibilities of Zion were already here, and its scattered elements all about us? A child’s embrace, a companion’s caress, a friend’s laughter are its materials. Our capacity to mourn another’s pain, like God’s tears for His children; our desire to lift our neighbor from his destitution, like Christ’s desire to lift us from our sin and sorrow—these are not to pass away when the elements shall melt with fervent heat. They are the stuff and substance of any Zion we build, any heaven we inherit. God is not radically Other, and neither is His heaven. (pg 121)