The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Hardcover)

by Terryl L. Givens, Fiona Givens


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"The Givenses are never confrontational or aggressive in their presentation of Mormonism’s contribution to the discussion nor do they ever whip out a trump card of why the Mormon perspective is to be crowned king. The result is a very readable, reasonable and thought-provoking experience."
—Bryan Buchanan - Association for Mormon Letters

"Whether by design or by chance," Terryl and Fiona Givens write, "we find ourselves in a universe filled with mystery. We encounter appealing arguments for a Divinity that is a childish projection, for prophets as scheming or deluded imposters, and for scripture as so much fabulous fiction. But there is also compelling evidence that a glorious Divinity presides over the cosmos, that His angels are strangers we have entertained unawares, and that His word and will are made manifest through a sacred canon that is never definitively closed. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance."

As humans, we are, like the poet John Keats, "straining at particles of light in the midst of a great darkness." And yet, the authors describe a version of life's meaning that is reasonable—and radically resonant. It tells of a God whose heart beats in sympathy with ours, who set His heart upon us before the world was formed, who fashioned the earth as a place of human ascent, not exile, and who has the desire and the capacity to bring the entire human family home again.

Praise for The God Who Weeps

“I read this fine book in order better to understand what Mormons believe about divine compassion, and it certainly gave me that. But more important: I received in reading it some deeply personal lessons about the tears of God.”

—Richard J. Mouw, Ph.D., President and Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Writing from the perspective of Mormon faith, Terryl and Fiona Givens have produced a work of theological reflection that has much to offer not only to Latter-day Saints, but to intellectually and morally serious men and women of every religious persuasion who ponder the mystery of a God who, though profoundly transcendent, reveals Himself to us, offers us His friendship, and even shares our joys and sorrows. To be sure, readers who are not Latter-day Saints will learn from The God Who Weeps a great deal about what Mormons believe (including certain distinctively Mormon doctrines) and why they believe it. But that is only part of the value of the book. For even readers who do not share certain fundamental tenets of the LDS faith, but who believe in a personal, omnipotent, and omniscient God, will benefit from the Givens’ thoughtful reflections on how such a God enters into the lives of imperfect creatures like ourselves, lighting our paths, lifting us up when we fall, and summoning us to share in His divine life.”

—Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University, author of The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and Morals

“Terryl Givens, one of current Mormonism’s most celebrated thinkers, with Fiona Givens here provides a fresh perspective on a number of distinctively LDS teachings.The God Who Weeps is a stirring and sensitive look into a personal God whose passions include an infinite capacity to feel after and respond eagerly to the pains and pleadings of His children; a life before this life for both Deity and humanity; a refusal to adopt the classical Christian view of original sin and the dismal and discouraging picture of the human race it paints; and, an optimistic glimpse into a divine plan that seeks to save all of those who wish to be saved. This important work provides a substantive optimism, a welcome and needed portrayal of humanity’s heavenly possibilities.”

—Robert L. Millet, Professor of Religious Education at Brigham Young University, author of Grace Works

“Reading this book is like experiencing Mormonism in high definition. By masterfully weaving together insights from ‘the best books’—scripture and literature, theology and philosophy—Terryl and Fiona Givens bring new depth to the fundamentals of their faith. Whether you know a lot or a little about Latter-day Saint doctrine, this book will both educate and inspire you.”

—David E. Campbell, Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, Author of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us

“Anyone desiring to understand more about Mormon Christianity could find no better guides than Terryl and Fiona Givens. Their heartfelt testimony to what their faith tradition has taught them about life is enriched with luminous insights from Western literature and philosophy. A lovely book!”

—Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard and former US Ambassador to the Vatican, author of The Forum and the Tower: How Scholars and Politicians Have Imagined the World from Plato to Eleanor Roosevelt

The God Who Weeps is an elegant meditation on the basic tenets of the Mormon faith. The Givenses write with precision and poetry. Their literary and religious references are unusually rich and varied: they include the classic texts of the Bible, early Christian thinkers, Enlightenment philosophers, Romantic poets, German theologians, Russian and American novelists—and many, many more. The prose is at times urgent and even soaring.

“Mormons will enjoy this succinct, sophisticated and searching précis of their core beliefs. Non-Mormons will be led into the heart of a religion that was born on American soil, and whose history is one of the great neglected narratives of our national life.”

—Helen Whitney, producer of

The Mormons and Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero

“What if God were everything we are, only perfectly so? And what if those perfections included our vulnerability, our suffering, and our joy? In the Givens’ masterful hands, the Mormon view of God comes alive in fresh and challenging ways. Mainstream Christians have much to learn from Mormonism, and this book is the place to start.”

—Stephen H. Webb, professor of Religion and Philosophy, Wabash College, author of Jesus Christ, Eternal God

“This is not the kind of book Latter-day Saints ordinarily write. It begins at a deep point of human experience where all is uncertain. It asks: how do you move from an elemental condition of ignorance and yearning to belief and faith? The Givenses tell us not only where they end up but how they got there and along the way confront the most baffling moral and intellectual conundrums of human existence.”

—Richard Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History, Emeritus, Columbia University, author of Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling

About the Authors

TERYL GIVENS holds the James A. Bostwick chair of English and is Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond and the author of several books. His writing has been praised by the New York Times as “provocative reading” and includes, most recently, When Souls Had Wings, a history of the idea of premortal life in Western thought; a biography (with Matthew Grow) of Parley Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (winner of the 2012 Best Book Award from the Mormon History Association); and Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought.

FIONA GIVENS is a retired modern language teacher with undergraduate degrees in French and German and a graduate degree in European History. She is now an independent scholar who has published in several journals and reviews in Mormon studies, including Journal of Mormon History, Exponent II, and LDS Living. Along with Terryl, she is the author of The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Terryl and Fiona are the grandparents of five—fonts of delight; and the parents of six—sources of intellectual challenge and inspiration.

The Longing Soul


The Longing Soul

“For He satisfyeth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.”

Whether by design or by chance, we find ourselves in a universe filled with mystery. No picture ever painted fully explains the vast landscape of human experience. Science doesn’t try to, and religion often fails. But we humans are meaning-making machines. We are complex creatures of logic and superstition, who crave both clarity and wonder. Faith often asks us to turn a blind eye to the incongruities and inconsistencies of belief in the divine. But reason comes up short as well in accounting for those moments of deepest love and yearning, of unspeakable calm in the midnight of anguish, of the shards of light visible to the inner eye alone.

Skeptics may point out that, even if an all-powerful God presides over creation, we have no guarantee, and little evidence, that such a Being would be any more benevolent and merciful than the frightening figures of a hundred mythologies. Such a concern is reasonable. Most of us do indeed walk our weary way in the dark from candle to candle, or live lives of quiet desperation devoid of even those glimmering guideposts. We are mired in the mundane—and then unexpectedly beauty irrupts into our lives, flashing before us like the first goldfinch of spring. We recognize and crave goodness and kindness, and our hearts yearn to find its source. We know what it is to love beyond any Darwinian drive to preserve our species. We know what it is to mourn the loss of life as something profoundly wrong: too wasteful, too incongruous with the economy of the universe, to be final. We feel to protest the patent absurdity of a one act play:

To see the golden sun, the azure sky, the outstretched ocean; to walk upon the green earth, and be lord of a thousand creatures; to look down yawning precipices or over distant sunny vales; to see the world spread out under one’s feet on a map; to bring the stars near; to view the smallest insects through a microscope; . . . to witness the change of seasons, of spring and autumn, of winter and summer; to feel hot and cold, pleasure and pain, beauty and deformity, right and wrong; to be sensible to the accidents of nature; to consider the mighty world of eye and ear; to listen to the stock-dove’s notes amid the forest deep; to journey over moor and mountain; to hear the midnight sainted choir; to visit lighted halls, or the cathedral’s gloom, or sit in crowded theatres and see life itself mocked; to study the works of art and refine the sense of beauty to agony; . . . to overlook the world as if time and nature poured their treasures at our feet—to be and to do all this and then in a moment to be nothing! . . .

Whatever sense we make of this world, whatever value we place upon our lives and relationships, whatever meaning we ultimately give to our joys and agonies, must necessarily be a gesture of faith. Whether we consider the whole a product of impersonal cosmic forces, a malevolent deity, or a benevolent god, depends not on the evidence, but on what we choose, deliberately and consciously, to conclude from that evidence. To our minds, this fork in our mental road is very much the point. It is, in fact, inescapable. James Stephen noted that “in nearly all the important transactions in life, indeed in all transactions whatever which have relation to the future, we have to take a leap in the dark, . . .to act upon very imperfect evidence. . . . I believe it to be the same with religious belief. . . . If we decide to leave the [questions] unanswered, that is a choice; if we waver in our answer that, too, is a choice: but whatever choice we make, we make it at our peril.”

It is true that some people seem born with a capacity to readily believe. And many people die with a full complement of faith. A dear relative spent her last months pining for death because she was the last of her generation, she “missed her people” to an excruciating degree, and she grew more and more disconnected from a world she saw as simply irrelevant, without the power to interest or lay hold upon her. It was striking to watch the world and persons beyond the grave assume, in her mind and in her conversation, a fully fleshed-out texture and presence that utterly displaced the inhabitants of the here and now. Faith did not seem a choice for her. It descended upon her as naturally and irresistibly as the heavy snow that fell on her upstate New York farm.

Such a gift we have not found to be common. And it would seem that among those who most vigorously pursue a rational understanding of the universe, who ask the hard questions and follow where they lead, faith is as often a casualty as it is a product. If there is a god, then perhaps as Robert Bolt’s Thomas More suggests, “He made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of His mind.” 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. Our vision draws us to that which lies beyond our ken—too distant, or too small, for our mortal powers of perception. Yet we do not abandon our gift of sight, but fashion Galileo’s telescope or the electron microscope, which together with naked eyes unlocks new worlds.

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 more 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. The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension.

Fortunately, in this world, one is always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites, and our egos. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.

We are, as reflective, thinking, pondering seekers, much like the proverbial ass of Buridan. The beast in the parable starves to death because he is faced with two equally desirable and equally accessible piles of hay. Having no determinative reason to choose one over the other, he perishes in indecision. In the case of us mortals, we are confronted with a world in which there are appealing arguments for a Divinity that is a childish projection, for prophets as scheming or deluded imposters, and for scriptures as so much fabulous fiction. But there is also compelling evidence that a glorious Divinity presides over the cosmos, that His angels are strangers we have entertained unaware, and that His word and will are made manifest through a scriptural canon that is never definitively closed.

There is, as with the ass of Buridan, nothing to compel an individual’s preference for one over the other. For most of us, at least, there is neither a choir of heavenly heralds proving God exists, nor a laboratory of science equipment proving He doesn’t. Rather, we find a persuasive body of evidence on both sides of life’s competing propositions. Only in the case of us mortals, there is something to tip the scale. There is something to predispose us to a life of faith or a life of disbelief. There is a heart that, in these conditions of equilibrium and balance, equally “enticed by the one or the other,” is truly free to choose belief or skepticism, faith or faithlessness.

The call to faith, in this light, is not some test of a coy god, waiting to see if we “get it right.” It is the only summons, issued under the only conditions, which can allow us fully to reveal who we are, what we most love, and what we most devoutly desire. Without constraint, without any form of mental compulsion, the act of belief becomes the freest possible projection of what resides in our hearts. Like the poet’s image of a church bell that only reveals its latent music when struck, or a dragonfly that only flames forth its beauty in flight, so does the content of a human heart lie buried until action calls it forth. The greatest act of self-revelation occurs when we choose what we will believe, in that space of freedom that exists between knowing that a thing is, and knowing that a thing is not.

This is the realm where faith operates, and when faith is a freely chosen gesture, it expresses something essential about the self. For we do indeed create gods after our own image—or potential image. And that is an activity endowed with incalculable moral meaning. If we linger in indecision, as does Buridan’s beast, we will not perish. We will simply miss an opportunity to act decisively in the absence of certainty, and show that our fear of error is greater than our love of truth.

In what follows, we explore five propositions pertaining to who presides over this universe, where we came from, why we are here, and what might await us in the “undiscovered country.” Woven together into a coherent tapestry, we find these concepts compelling, inspiring, and reasonable.

1. God is a personal entity, having a heart that beats in sympathy with human hearts, feeling our joy and sorrowing over our pain.

That God has a heart that beats in sympathy with ours is the reality that draws us to Him. That He feels real sorrow, rejoices with real gladness, and weeps real tears with us. This, as the prophet Enoch learned, is an awful, terrible, yet infinitely comforting truth.

2. We lived as spirit beings in the presence of God before we were born into this mortal life.

A sense of unease in the world and the poignant yearnings and shadowy intimations of an eternal past, attest to a timeless heritage at the core of human identity. As premortal individuals, possessing self-awareness and the power of choice, we existed in God’s presence long before the foundations of the earth were laid.

>3. Mortality is an ascent, not a fall, and we carry infinite potential into a world of sin and sorrow.

Children are born pure and innocent, without the taint of original sin. (We find plenty on our own.) The momentous choice made by Eve and Adam was itself fortunate, insofar as it did not unleash the double specter of depravity and universal condemnation, but rather made possible the introduction of the human family into the schoolhouse of the world.

4. God has the desire and the power to unite and elevate the entire human family in a kingdom of heaven, and, except for the most stubbornly unwilling, that will be our destiny.

In the premortal world, God “found Himself in the midst of spirits and glory,” took compassion on these beings, and “saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest . . . could have a privilege to advance like Himself and be exalted with Him.” His design was to elevate and ennoble the entire human family. He does not capriciously foreordain any to damnation. And life is not a lottery in which only the fortunate few born at the right time and place receive a winning ticket. God’s plan is wise enough, His love generous enough, that none will be left out.

5. Heaven will consist of those relationships that matter most to us now.

The same Bible that holds out the promise of joint-heirship with Christ also provides morality tales against excessive ambition. Clearly, to aspire to be God is sin; to desire to be like God is filial love and devotion. So any concept of eternal life must be framed by the invitation to share in the divine nature. And God’s nature and life are the simple extenuation of that which is most elemental, and most worthwhile, about our life here on earth.

A Great Disappointment!

by  Bradley C.  -   reviewed on  January 23, 2013

I purchased this book at Christmas for my wife. She read it from cover to cover, but repeatedly kept telling me that she wasn't enjoying it. I had a hard time believing her because of the great reviews. I recently picked up the book in order to discover for myself whether her assessment was accurate or not. I read the Introduction and then Chapter One. I found the content to be flowery nothingness and a great disappointment. I have an extensive church library and cannot remember ever being so spiritually disappointed in a books content that I have decided it would be in my best interest of time to close it and not pick it up again. Sadly, this has been the case!

The Plan of Salvation explained with beauty and depth

by  Catherine  -   reviewed on  January 10, 2014

I was sad to read the reviews of those who didn't get much out of this book. It was one of the best books I have ever read on the subject of Heavenly Father's relationship to his spirit children. I do not have a masters or doctorate degree, but I am a deep thinker when it comes to the gospel so I appreciate profound insight, particularly when it is sound and not meant to be sensationalized. I can understand why some feel the book is written for intellectuals. Some of the language takes repetition to comprehend. It is reminiscent of the writing and speaking style of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, whose beautiful, metaphorical expressions often required some dissecting. So, in fairness to some of the other reviewers, it isn't what I would call an easy read and it wouldn't be the best choice for someone looking for a quick, cover-to-cover-in-a-day kind of book. It took some work to get through. But I wouldn't describe it as being only for the highly educated, either. There is so much good material in this book, and the language is exquisite. I came away feeling greatly enlightened, having a much clearer vision of the Plan of Happiness. I couldn't wait to recommend it to my friends and family. In my opinion, well worth the time.

Difficult book to read and understand

by  Dennis  -   reviewed on  January 23, 2013

I bought this book with great hope that it would be the spiritual experience I anticipated. Frankly, I could not read past chapter two. I found the book requires a PHD/or Masters Degree to interpret what the author is saying through the language used. It is not written for the person who enjoys a read that is easily understood.

Truly remarkable

by  Fredrick  -   reviewed on  October 17, 2012

In the MP3 audio version, Fiona Givens reads the book that she and her husband have authored. The beauty and depth of the insights are well matched by the beauty and eloquence of Fiona's voice. Reading/listening is a marvelous and moving experience. It is one of the best books I have ever encountered.

Profoundly inspiring

by  Customer  -   reviewed on  January 03, 2013

Geoff's review echoes my sentiments. For me, there were many "I never thought of it that way" moments with perspectives and ideas that were profoundly inspiring. “The God Who Weeps” is beautifully written and enriched by many literary and philosophical references that otherwise would be unknown to the average reader but are perfect complements to each subject or conversation. It is both logical and emotional. For those whose reason suppresses their faith, I can’t help but think this book would gently persuade them to rethink, redefine and return to who they really are. I loved this book.

Beautiful, logical and increased my understanding of God's perfect love.

by  Rodney  -   reviewed on  January 11, 2013

Wow! Bought 12 of them as small Christmas presents... read it 3x in 2 weeks. HIGHLY RECOMMEND, must read.

Hands down... One of the greatest books Deseret Book has published!

by  Rodney  -   reviewed on  June 13, 2013

This book has helped open my heart to new depths, understanding and comprehending the indescribable love of God. This book has been praised by some of the greatest scholars of Mormonism, rightfully so. Beautifully written, we're given insight from the ages.. masters of scholarship and philosophy are brought into a single view... "God’s pain is as infinite as His love. He weeps because He feels compassion... it is not their wickedness, but their “misery,” not their disobedience, but their “suffering,” that elicits the God of Heaven’s tears. Not until Gethsemane and Golgotha does the scriptural record reveal so unflinchingly the costly investment of God’s love in His people, the price at which He placed His heart upon them. There could be nothing in this universe, or in any possible universe, more perfectly good, absolutely beautiful, worthy of adoration, and deserving of emulation, than this God of love and kindness and vulnerability... In the vision of Enoch, we find ourselves drawn to a God who prevents all the pain He can, assumes all the suffering He can, and weeps over the misery He can neither prevent nor assume."

Written by intellectuals for intellectuals

by  Linden  -   reviewed on  November 14, 2012

Written by intellectuals for intellectuals. I collected a few good gems from the book, but most of it was above me. I read a lot, but this book really challenged my comprehension. Great title, that's why I bought the book.


by  Elaine  -   reviewed on  October 31, 2012

I had only read the Excerpt on this book.It truly touched my heart.Sometimes as humans we forget who we are,and where we came from. To understand that indeed God weeps at our sorrows,and that he truly understands how we feel,is not to humanise him,but makes him more accesible to us. To say as the scriptures attest,"for now we see through a glass darkly" brings home to me how we can overcome that darkness as we walk into the light of his love. I will be purchasing this book. The language is breathtaking and glorious,like precious pearls,made more lovely as we read it.Thank you.

An eloquent statement of LDS beliefs about God's relationship to us.

by  Geoff  -   reviewed on  January 02, 2013

This is truely an eloquent discussion of LDS beliefs, a very thoughtful and perceptive analysis of our relationship with the Divine....a loving God who has our best interests at heart. This is beautifully written with numerous references to philosophers and poets to help give added depth to the arguments and discussions. The book seems to gain more insight and depth as it goes on with the last chapters rich and fertile ground for thought and insight. A few have commented about the 'intellectual' nature of the book but I disagree, the authors adequately explain their inclusions which dispels, for me, any need to feel distant. The authors need congratulations!

We worship a God who weeps!

by  Shauna  -   reviewed on  October 24, 2012

START THIS BOOK IN CHAPTERS 3-5 THEN READ CHAPTERS 1-2! JUST SAYIN' I have had a couple of people now tell me that this book is a little hard to get into...And I tend to agree... BUT... Once you get to chapters 3-5 you can't put it down! Amazing thoughts on who the God we worship is and how he LOVES his children~~US! AND...How he wants us to be HAPPY! If you have started this book...and have put it down...pick it back up and skip to chapter 3... You will be happy you didn't give up on this book :)

fiona has a wonderful voice

by  Elizabeth  -   reviewed on  March 05, 2013

What wonderful insights into the nature of god. I would highly recommend this to anyone!

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