The God Who Weeps: Satisfaction

October 31, 2012 | 12 comments
By

I agree with The God Who Weeps that God redeems our hungers and desires, but I disagree about how God does this.

Weeps argues that the world is inadequate to satisfy our desires. “Who has never felt the utter inadequacy of the world to satisfy the spiritual longings of our nature?” (671/2408) I agree that the world is inadequate to our desires and that, in the end, it cannot satisfy our “insatiable longing for wholeness” (686/2408).

But Weeps goes on to claim that the world’s inability to satisfy our desires compels us to posit the existence of an object that could satisfy them: namely, God. This is a classic theological move with a prestigious pedigree: our longing for wholeness and completion is strong evidence that something must exist that can make us whole.

Weeps invokes this pedigree by way of both the Symposium’s Aristophanes and Augustine. To dramatize our longing and brokenness, Aristophanes tells a story about how human beings originally had four legs, four arms, and two heads. But, full of ourselves, we angered the gods and Zeus split us in two as punishment, condemning us to wander the earth as half-persons (half-persons who long, especially, for sex as a way of at least temporarily putting ourselves back together). Of this, Weeps says:

Aristophanes was surely half-joking, but he captures brilliantly our sense of incompleteness and longing for wholeness, for intimate union with another human being who fits us like our other half. Yet even when we find true love and companionship in the rediscovered other, the restoration that should fulfill us falls short; Aristophanes himself is baffled. It is as if, coming together, we are haunted by the memory of an even more perfect past, when we were even more whole and complete, and this suspicion lends an indefinable melancholy to our present lives. . . . So what can we make of this unsatisfied longing, this sense of a primordial loss that no human love can heal? (243/2408)

The Christian tradition picks up on this same longing and says: “Aha! You feel this way because God is your one true other half!” In this vein, Augustine famously prays in the opening lines of his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

But, as Weeps asks, what should we make of this unsatisfied longing? Are hungers that will not quit an accidental defect of mortality? Or is this hunger an inseparable feature of what it means to be alive, and perhaps especially alive in Christ?

I won’t deny that it is possible for our restless hearts to find rest in God, but I do want to deny that this rest results from the satisfaction of our desires.

God does not save our hungers by satisfying them. God saves us from the tyranny of our desires by saving us from the impossible work of satisfying them. God may be what we desire, but God’s arrival does not quench this desire. It gives it. And in giving it, God means to show us how living life depends on caring for rather than being done with desire.

Rather than trying to satisfy desire by way of an endless series of demands, we must learn to be faithful to life by being faithful to the unquenchable persistence of the desire that animates us as alive. Life depends on our being open and incomplete. To be “whole” is to be dead.

Or, again: the heavens are filled with unquenchable fire; only the fires in hell die down.

At times, Weeps feels to me like it wants to take this second position on desire, even as it commits itself to other positions (as above) that undermine it. The book’s own thesis – that the Gods weep, that they feel passion and sorrow and desire – strains in this direction.

When, for instance, Weeps notes that “the paradox of Christ’s saving sway is that it operates on the basis of what the world would call weakness” (496/2408), I say amen.

But, it seems to me, part of this divine, redemptive “weakness” is manifest in how Jesus liberates us from the problem of desire by saving it rather than “solving” it.

————————————————-

Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Salt Lake City: Ensign Peak, 2012).

12 Responses to The God Who Weeps: Satisfaction

  1. Snyderman on October 31, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Interesting. I’m curious to know what your take is on the idea of perfection meaning “whole-ness” or “complete-ness.” Some of the Biblical words for perfection seem to mean being whole or complete, yet you say, “To be ‘whole’ is to be dead.” Are you talking about a different kind of “whole-ness?” Or do you think perfection means something different? Just curious…

  2. Adam Miller on November 1, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Good question. FWIW, I think that Joseph’s revelations oblige us to engage in a kind of wholesale re-reading of what we mean by wholeness and completion. I offer, for instance, what I think is a very faithful reading of those famous verses in Matthew 5 about perfection/completion here.

  3. Thomas Parkin on November 1, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    It is interesting that Moroni says that little children are “whole” and therefore “cannot sin.” And yet clearly little children are not complete, as long as we are thinking of complete as meaning having reached (attained is maybe the Mormon word) the penultimate expression of their living being as Children of God.

    My initial try at this would be to say that “little” children respond in a total way to any existential situation that is presented to them. (It is probably better say any situation which can be thought of as presented to them.) A baby is whole because its response to its world is entirely encompassed by what it (the baby) possesses. The baby lacks knowledge, for instance, but the situation of the baby does not require knowledge. (It requires a parent, but that is a route I don’t want to be distracted by.) Immediately we begin to acquire (whatever), but our need for (whatever) greatly outpaces our ability to acquire it, and we lack. We are never able to fully engage the situations that are presented to us. Every single thing we do contains an element of this insufficiency, and we are in sin. It isn’t that situations have damaged us and caused us to lose our original wholeness. It is rather that acquisitions move us forward but are never sufficient to the increasingly fraught situations that require us to respond. (Hence the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is the very acquisition of the desirable (and needed) fruit that brings about the end of innocence.) (Generally our efforts are half-hearted and characterized by some kind of dissimulation. But even should we be able to respond in a total way, we would be insufficient.) We experience this as a lack of wholeness.

  4. KLS on November 1, 2012 at 11:02 pm

    Adam, you’ve been reading Rumi again.

  5. Thomas Parkin on November 2, 2012 at 12:09 am

    It’s a very very interesting and even brave attempt at affirmation, I’ll give it that. That absence, that the very negative space, the very lack, that creates our desire is to be valued because it is better to desire then not to desire. To affirm that God desires (and must therefore lack). A wonderful affirmation of the human and recognizably human passion in God. An interesting place from which to analyze the idea that in the highest kingdom our sociality is accompanied by everlasting burnings. I think that strangely, though, it misses love. God suffers in observation of us, not in observation of himself. Also, to acknowledge that desire is created by hunger, by lack, leaves possession as merely satiation – unless we are able to distinguish between a kind of pleasure the results from the realization of desire and a kind of pleasure that results from love. I would say that one way righteousness can be recognized is in the way it is fulfilled That fulfillment can be recognized in its ability to take pleasure from reality. So that wholeness, the final and complete expression of righteousness, is life, not death, because the whole man is sufficient at every point, meaning that he is able to take pleasure, is able to love, each expression of reality, himself being sufficient to each expression.

    I don’t believe that we yearn for God because we lack God. We yearn for wholeness because we are inadequate. We want God because we need a parent. We want an escape from our insufficiency. What we yearn for is the fulfillment of ourselves. Fortunately for us, this is the precise thing that God also desires.

  6. Thomas Parkin on November 2, 2012 at 12:29 am

    We generally think of love as a desire for that thing that can make us whole. Oh, no, no. Love is to do with the thing as it is, and is not to do with ourselves. We cannot love God until after we have seen Him – hence the admonition to seek His face. Our love of God is actually a love of our own desire that He be what we yearn for. In so far as we experience our insufficiency, we will create a more magical God to answer it. So that a little self-regard is good.

    I may want a woman out of a hope that she will make me whole. But this very hope will blind me to the reality of what she is. We do not love from lack, we love from capacity – the capacity to see truly. We may be tempted to think that if we love we will be good and truthful. All this talk about love is often premature. In reality, truthfulness and goodness facilitate love, in the end. Love will not facilitate truthfulness or goodness, and in fact our broken love often does the opposite.

    When two young people say they love each other, the mature response is to say, do your best. In defense of young romantic love, though, I’d say that at its best it is a desire for sexual satisfaction and resonant companionship, and both of those things can fulfilled without too much hubbub if you choose well and / or are lucky.

  7. Edward J on November 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Buddhist meditation has taught me that my Heavenly Parents love and accept me completely, exactly as I am. Their grace allows me to grow toward my potential. My job, therefore, is not to earn that gift, but to live worthy of it.

    In other words, I am whole right now–even in my imperfection–and God helps me grow toward greater wholeness. Worrying about my imperfection/sinfulness/lack-of-wholeness is a distraction.

  8. Edward J on November 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    I just read Adam’s post on loving perfectly and could not agree more. Thumbs way up!

  9. Believe All Things on November 2, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Synderman – there are ritualistic connotations to the Greek word translated “perfect” in the NT. See for example John Welch’s article about New Testament Word Studies.

  10. Robert C. on November 4, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Nice, Adam. I wonder the extent to which Paul has something similar in mind in Philippians 4:11-13:

    [Fo]or I have learned to be content in any circumstance. I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. (NET Bible)

    I remember reading that first line in Russian on my mission, and the first word in the dictionary for the word “content” was “satisfied.”

    I also like this “secret of contentment” translation(/interpretation) of the verse by the NET Bible (see link for textual note).

  11. Adam Miller on November 4, 2012 at 10:43 am

    That’s a beautiful translation, Robert. Thanks.

  12. Snyderman on November 5, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Just wanted to thank Adam (2) and Believe All Things (9) for their responses to my question, and let you know that I did read them.

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.