Book Review: The God Who Weeps

October 11, 2012 | 34 comments
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The God Who Weeps:  How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life by Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens

Normally when I sit down to write a review, I’m grumpy because I have too much information to squish in while still keeping the thing at a reasonable length.  Today, I’m feeling completely overwhelmed and inadequate faced with the task of conveying to you how much I loved this book.  Maybe I will just say that this is the single best book of Mormon Studies that I have ever read.  I’m going to try for some snap shots but I’ll apologize in advance for my inability to do justice to this book.  Just, please, read it.

(1) I have been having something akin to a faith crisis for the last few months and the introduction to this book made it go away.

(2) I hate it when people write sort of general-ish, personal reflection-ish books on Mormonism.  This is not that.  Except that it is.  Except that it is brilliant.  And marvelously well-written.

(3) I never re-read books, unless I have the flu, and then it is mindless fluff.  But I plan on re-reading this at least 3-4 times.  It is short, but there is so much here.

(4) This is the book to give your thinky non-member friends.  It won’t introduce them to the surface structure of Mormonism (Nephi, Word of Wisdom, etc.) but it will make the deep structure of Mormonism intelligible–and appealing–to someone who has no interest in “proving” the gospel from proof-texted Bible verses but rather from a consideration of philosophical issues and life challenges.

(5) Sometimes I read something (a talk, a comment online, etc.) and I’m weighed down by the thought that that came out of my religious tradition.  This book:  I read it and thought, yes:  those are my people.  This is the best face of what I believe.

Well.  I have not done this book justice.

Just, please, read it.

Note:  Review copy provided by publisher.

34 Responses to Book Review: The God Who Weeps

  1. Ben on October 11, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    That’s a fairly ringing endorsement, actually.

  2. Matt W. on October 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    I bought this on my kindle last week. Loving it so far. It’s like Terryl Givens decided Mormonism needed a new Truman Madsen who was also N.T. Wright who was also Harold Bloom.

  3. Luisa Perkins on October 11, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    That works for me.

  4. Gilgamesh on October 11, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    I can empathize with your faith crisis. It is nice when you find something that doesn’t make you feel so alone.

  5. Sonny on October 11, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Julie,

    I am a bit of a slower reader than you probably are, and am less than 1/3 into it so far. However, I felt that the introduction to the book alone was worth the price I paid for the Kindle version. And I feel exactly the same about giving it to thinking non-members. Last night I had already created a mental list.

    This is a great, great book.

  6. Sonny on October 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I mostly just have very small chunks of time to read, which is why it usually takes a long time for me to finish any given book……

  7. Stephen Smoot on October 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    I started reading it this morning.

    I don’t think I know enough superlatives to describe how awesome this book is.

    I agree with Julie. READ IT!

  8. Thomas Parkin on October 11, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    I had a feeling this is what this book was going to be, and can hardly wait to read it.

  9. Kevin Barney on October 11, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    I’m sorry, Julie, but I couldn’t tell what your reaction was to this book. Do you think it is worth purchasing and reading? What do you really think? Don’t hold back your opinion so much. I couldn’t tell whether you liked it, recommend it and actually want us to read it or not.

  10. Aaron Brown on October 11, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    So Julie, perhaps I’ve misunderstood, but I take you to be saying that this volume royally sucked, yes?

  11. Adam Greenwood on October 11, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    Well, gollie, I felt like I had to order it to read.

  12. Sam Brunson on October 11, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Thanks, Julie. This wasn’t even on my radar, and now it most certainly is.

  13. Stephen R. Marsh on October 11, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    Thanks for sharing the review.

  14. Ben S on October 12, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Julie, would this be a good pre-missionary book? I think those who prep tend to focus on reading the scriptures, and maybe memorizing some passages or doctrinal points, largely the “surface structure” as you say. At the age of 18-21, they may not themselves have grasped the beauty or depth of the tradition. Could this serve to open their eyes to that kind of thing? Or is it too much, too inaccessible, for a late teen?

  15. Julie M. Smith on October 12, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Ben S,

    I’m not sure a younger person would get how exemplary this book is, but it certainly wouldn’t do her/him any harm and would perhaps open their eyes to a more lovely way of thinking about gospel principles. It is definitely not inaccessible.

  16. Matt W. on October 12, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Ben S.- I don’t think it is inaccessible, but It would have to be the right teen. Givens writes with an eye for beauty in his prose, and thus uses 10 words when he could have used 1 or 2. It would need to be a youth who had a taste for the beauty in writing and didn’t mind people who quote the Brothers Karamazov.

    Julie- I am still of two minds about the intelligent design argument Givens puts forth. Wondering what you thought of it.

  17. Stephen R. Marsh on October 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Kindle edition is ten dollars. That is enough to make me weep.

  18. Melissa B. on October 12, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Why doesn’t B&N have a nook edition?

  19. Julie M. Smith on October 12, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Matt W.,

    I saw them making two arguments:

    (1) “one miracle too many” — sounded to me like a (beautifully stated, but still) anthropic principle/fallacy and I wasn’t persuaded.

    (2) the “brain too big just to survive” argument — better. Not the kind of thing I would want to base my testimony on, but perhaps it creates room for the possibility of faith, and it is interesting.

    (This was the least persuasive part of the book, I thought.)

  20. James Olsen on October 12, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    Givens incredible work in the past has created for himself the sometimes difficult challenge of very high expectations. He hasn’t always fulfilled them – no one can. But I’ve been quite hopeful about this particular book. Julie, you increase both the hope and of course the expectations.

    Now I just have to hope that customs let’s it through. Any day now…

  21. Tiffany W. on October 13, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Thanks for the recommendation. Thanks to the wonders of Kindle, I’ve downloaded and it and am reading it. Very thought-provoking.

  22. Zina Petersen on October 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    I just want to give a much, much bigger shout-out to Fiona for this than she’s getting. This was originally her idea, most of the preliminary work was hers, and she had it as an article before collaborating with ever-so-adored husband. Fiona is fiercely, frighteningly intelligent, every bit a match for Terryl, and though they may have to set me straight, I suspect that (much as I adore them both, and I DO!) his name sells books, so it came first. YAY FIONA BULBECK (Givens)!!!!!!!!

    That is all.

  23. Julie M. Smith on October 13, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Thank you, Zina.

  24. Suleiman on October 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    I bought it, and I am only through the first half. But Julie is right. It is absolutely one of the best books I’ve read in the last decade.

  25. Alison Moore Smith on October 15, 2012 at 1:59 am

    Just downloaded it. How could I resist? Can’t wait to read it. And I love the wife/husband collaboration. :)

  26. Julie M. Smith on October 15, 2012 at 11:56 am
  27. Rachael on October 15, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks for that, Zina! Definitely an important point to bring up :)

  28. David Redden on October 15, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Just finished. The writing is beautiful. I liked their approach in Chapter 1 of trying to prove that belief in God isn’t unreasonable, as opposed to putting forward alleged proofs of his existence. I think they are mostly successful, even though I’m not personally moved by their abundant-world and abundant-brain theories.

    I had trouble in chapter 2 where they talk about how the mere thought that we could have been born elsewhere exposes a deep assumption that we existed as a something before we were born. To my mind, all it’s exposing is empathy and imagination, which is a far cry from an assumption of pre-existence. This might seem silly, but that part was almost a deal-breaker for me. Part of the problem might be that they don’t clearly delineate between their own thought and the thoughts of others that they’re summarizing.

    It’s obvious design is to appeal broadly to Mormons. Why “obvious,” you may ask? Well, why else would you quote C.S. Lewis multiple times? To get Mormons nodding, that’s why!

  29. Keith on October 15, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    On your recommendation, I bought this and read it (Kindle Edition). It is an excellent book on many levels. The Givens have presented things well.

    One disappointment for me. There’s much talk of the Fall, its positive view in Mormonism, no original sin, the move forward, etc. But I wish they had dealt with the passages in the Book of Mormon and elsewhere that deal rather starkly with our lost and fallen state, less than the dust of the earth, etc. I fully believe the positive aspects of the fall (though those aspects of the fall are only positive if there is also an atonement), but had hoped they would put these other passages into conversation with the former. They do deal, briefly with Paul’s ‘what hate I do, what I want to do I don’t do” and so on, but not really in depth.

  30. Suleiman on October 15, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    Keith,

    I think that this book starts with the assumption that the reader had already experienced something of mortality. It focuses on the premise that Mormonism provides answers to some of life’s greatest problems and riddles. The approach is positive. Perhaps the authors thought that elements you mentioned were outside the scope of their approach.

  31. Waylon Covil on October 16, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    I also bought the kindle version. Reading it on my phone. it’s a good read.
    For a pre missionary, I would recommend leap of faith by bob bennett. One of the best books I’ve read. I felt the spirit at the end of it.

  32. meg on October 18, 2012 at 1:33 am

    I picked up a copy the day it came out. Finally, we have a book we can give to absolutely everyone with no hesitancy as to how it will be received! It is fabulous. Go and get it!

  33. tyler on November 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    I’m very late to this party, but will add my whole-hearted, enthusiastic, even joyful endorsement. It’s been a long time since a book resonated so beautifully with the way I think and feel about so much that is dear to me.

  34. Rod Olson on February 22, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    I have read this book 3 times (purchased 12/20/12, read in 1 day)… I’m in awe. I bought 10 copies 12/23; gave them as Christmas presents to family and friends. Hands down, the most sublime book written on God. So profound, so logical, so thought provoking and insightful. Their understanding and ability to express the unspeakable love offered by Him– I have been given a fuller understanding as why He is THE MOST HIGH GOD. A must read.

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