All Eternity Shakes: Mormonism’s Weeping God

Originally, I had set out to do a series of posts on Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, one post for every chapter of the book. Equal parts narcissism and unfounded optimism informed me that this was a good idea, but in the end the extremities of my work and other issues prevented me from doing this.

Instead, I had intended to do one more post addressing the depiction of God in the book. I may one day write that post. But today, there was a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. An elementary school. Children died, almost 20 of them, from what I can gather from conflicting reports. Several adults as well, likely their teachers. By the time you read this, we’ll probably know the number. We’ll eventually know the names of the victims, and the identity of the shooter.

We’ll rage at anything that even has a hint of an acceptable target: God, guns, gun advocates, inadequate security, human nature. We’ll also ask ourselves what can be done. What do we do next, not necessarily collectively as a culture but quite literally the very next thing we do. Maybe we’ll struggle to finish the work day, or leave work, or obsessively pick over every report we can find about what happened. If we have children we’ll gather them close, and no matter what we say or don’t say we’ll say it or say nothing through tears. We’ll call friends and family, asking if they’ve heard the news, and take a moment to cry with them. We’ll be a little more sensitive to others’ suffering around us, and we might see opportunities for service to others we didn’t notice before.

At some point, usually in the beginning, there are no words. Some suffering is unspeakable. It can’t be explained or poetized or sung. It can only be witnessed and acknowledged.

At some point, usually a little later, we’ll speak. We’ll feel compelled to speak, to ask, to give words to our rage and our grief. Some of us will betray the suffering of innocents and the ones they left behind with trite explanations or inadequate quotes from favorite scriptures. Others will rail–justifiably so–against God and demand through tears of anguish how we can be expected to worship a being that allows things like this to happen. How dare he ask us to have hope when we have to endure things like this. How can he ask it of us, even if at some point in the past we consented? We’ll ask the inevitable question every believer asks: Where was God? How come he didn’t save these children? How come he didn’t send someone, anyone able to hear him at all, to warn the parents or the school about the terror that was coming for them? What was to be gained by allowing freedom of choice in this instance? How could anything be worth God’s non-intervention in an event like this? And of course we’ll realize that we can ask that question of any moment of any day throughout the history of humankind. In locations throughout the earth, at any given moment, the sufferings and deaths of innocent children–not to mention people in general–blights the human race with a steady consistency that’s far too appalling to fully comprehend. David Bentley Hart puts this under the merciless light of inspection when he considers Ivan Kamarazov’s depiction of suffering children:

Famously, Dostoevsky supplied Ivan with true accounts of children tortured and murdered: Turks tearing babies from their mothers’ wombs, impaling infants on bayonets, firing pistols into their mouths; parents savagely flogging their children; a five-year- old-girl tortured by her mother and father, her mouth filled with excrement, locked at night in an outhouse, weeping her supplications to “dear kind God” in the darkness; an eight-year-old serf child torn to pieces by his master’s dogs for a small accidental transgression.

Nothing that Ivan hears by way of explanation for these horrors convinces him.

He grants that one day there may be an eternal harmony established, one that we will discover somehow necessitated the suffering of children, and perhaps mothers will forgive the murderers of their babies, and all will praise God’s justice; but Ivan wants neither harmony—“for love of man I reject it,” “it is not worth the tears of that one tortured child”—nor forgiveness; and so, not denying there is a God, he simply chooses to return his ticket of entrance to God’s Kingdom. After all, Ivan asks, if you could bring about a universal and final beatitude for all beings by torturing one small child to death, would you think the price acceptable? . . .

Ivan so much as admits that God exists. But what to do with that? What to do with such a belief  that asserts that only in the next world will things be set right, only in the next world will brokenness finally be made whole? None of that is right. If things can be set right there without restricting others’ agency in the eternities, then they can be set right here without restricting agency. Here’s my ticket back for entrance into your kingdom. I don’t want to go there anymore.

What, then, of our God? We read that he weeps over the suffering of his children, that Enoch, who witnesses it, is astonished. After everything he had just seen, and been granted power to do by God, he saw God as the all-powerful sovereign, able to do anything he willed, the God of traditional Judaism and Christianity. But this is troubling for Enoch. Doesn’t God already live in that painless realm of beauty and joy, that very place where we yearn to go and have been promised if we are righteous and law-abiding? When God explains that the heavens weep over suffering due to the sins of humankind he then shows Enoch all of it, all of the wickedness and suffering that God witnesses with ghastly regularity, and now Enoch weeps, and his heart swells wide as eternity, and his bowels yearn and eternity shakes. Enoch experiences, as perhaps no one really had or no one really would in scripture, not Nephi with his vision of the end of his people, not John with his Revelation of the Apocalypse, what it was like to live God’s life, to live and move as he lived and moved, as one who is intensely connected to all the happenings and events and lives of the universe. And oh what joy he did not feel from this experience. He weeps bitterly and refuses to be comforted. This could not be it. This could not be all there was for all eternity, worlds without end. Enoch realizes that the essence of what it would mean become a divine being, to become like God, the heart and core of the the gift of the Good News for humanity, was not to escape to another realm where pain and suffering cannot touch you. It was to develop into a being who would and could endure the present of all moments, in wave after infinite wave of pain, suffering, and wickedness, because this would be, despite the good that humanity would also do and be capable of, the terrible gift of humanity to God.

If that is how Mormonism most radically alters traditional conceptions of the doctrine of God in Christian theology, we might be tempted to say along with Ivan, “Here’s my ticket back. I don’t want to go.” Was this not Jesus’ initial response in the terrible Garden, who would that he might not drink the bitter cup and shrink? And he didn’t shrink–until he was on the Cross, until he had borne more than he knew how to bear and cried out in anguished hopelessness that God had abandoned him. It was in that moment, perhaps, more than any other, that he finally, and truly, and terribly, became one with us, one of us, down here in this miserable hell-hole where little children are tortured and killed and entire generations are exterminated in genocidal slaughter. No, don’t come down here to be with us. It’s too horrible for you to imagine. Stay in those celestial spheres where disease doesn’t humiliate you by taking your mind before it takes your life. We don’t deserve it anyway. We’re too terrible to save, this race of beings who doesn’t just butcher its young but finds ghastly ways to make them suffer before the end.

But those celestial spheres are not quite like that. There is weeping. And the swelling of hearts. And the yearning of bowels. And the shaking of eternity. Those celestial spheres are not wholly stable and unmoved. They don’t prevent the terrible truths of the living universe from penetrating invincibly rigid walls. They are shaken. They are destabilized. They are pierced over and over again with our cries and our anguish.

This doesn’t seem comforting in the least. What kind of vision of God is this? Can such a God really save us? And do we really want him to? What kind of salvation is this, to never escape being a being who suffers, whose suffering, in some ways, only intensifies, as he or she is exalted?

That vivid moment in the Book of Mormon allegory of the olive tree, when after digging and dunging, watering and weeding, trimming, pruning, transplanting, and grafting, the great Lord of the vineyard throws down his spade and his pruning shears and weeps, crying out to any who would listen, “What could I have done more for my vineyard?”

….Jesus did not come to improve God’s view of man nearly so much as He came to improve man’s view of God and to plead with them to love their Heavenly Father as He has always and will always love them. The plan of God, the power of God, the holiness of God, yes, even the anger and the judgment of God they had occasion to understand. But the love of God, the profound depth of His devotion to His children, they still did not fully know—until Christ came.

So feeding the hungry, healing the sick, rebuking hypocrisy, pleading for faith—this was Christ showing us the way of the Father, He who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness….”  In Their mutual suffering and shared sorrow for the sins and heartaches of the rest of us, we see ultimate meaning in the declaration: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Grandeur of God”)

Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, lifting up the hands that hang down, weeding, dunging, trimming, pruning, weeping that we can’t do anymore but realizing that there is still more to be done, always more to be done–this is the life of a God: tasks to be accomplished, not reasons to be given. Injustice to make right, in this eternal present, not a future of fantastical bliss. Or perhaps better: the tasks are the reasons. God rarely offers explanation in scripture for why things occur. Explanations usually come from us, trying to comfort ourselves out of fear for our loved ones and fear to face what we’ve become as a species, the darkness that lies within us. God gets down in the dirt with a shovel and a determination to do what can be done, and he does it forever. Eventually he gets a body that can’t get sick and die. Eventually he lives with his family forever. But the work that they do together and the love that they radiate –trying to persuade us to be better, love a little more deeply, help those in need–is all there is and all there ever will be. And together their hearts swell in agony, and their bowels yearn for justice, and as a family they weep over the sufferings and deaths of their little ones, who will one day be doing that same work with them, shoulder to shoulder, engaged in in that eternal, terrible, joyful soulwork, and all we can do here is the same. We often wish it wasn’t true. But look around. Look at all the suffering before you. Look at the appalling injustice of the world. Look at those who need you to mourn with them and to comfort them. You need the same. The answer to your question is: We haven’t yet begun to dig.

One more time into the breach.

Look, over there. There are others. They will help. They want to be good, too.

Once more covered in blood and mud.

Again. Again.

Together.

Comments

  1. Thank you, Jacob.

  2. Christopher says:

    Thanks, Jacob.

  3. Mark Brown says:

    I love you, Jacob.

  4. I love you too, Mark.

  5. Beautiful, Jacob. Thank you.

  6. Oh, Jacob, I’ll dig, but I’ll mourn and curse as I do. And I’ll keep on digging.

  7. As I see it, Rachel, God is doing the same thing. You can’t really understand what you’re digging without mourning.

  8. Thanks, Jacob.

  9. Beautiful, Jacob.

  10. yes. and compounding my anguish is the knowledge that this happens all over the world, every day, and I don’t feel it, really feel it, until it happens to those that look like me. And there I stand rebuked of God and man.

  11. Thank you. Nothing will cure the anguish that I felt when I saw pictures of children the age of my oldest granddaughter crying as they were being lead away from the school, but it is comforting to know that I am not alone in the anguish, and that God also mourns with me. I need to do more digging in my very small part of the vineyard.

  12. Mmmm. So much to ponder. Thank you.

  13. liz johnson says:

    Absolutely beautiful. Thank you.

  14. Thank you for sharing. So beautiful.

  15. J. Stapley says:

    Thank you.

  16. Thanks, Jacob. A nice step toward catharsis on an exhausting day.

  17. Thanks, Jacob.

  18. Thanks Jacob.

  19. Chibbylick says:

    Thank you Jacob

  20. I, too, fled to this book today, and eventually to writing. Thank you for these visceral, uncomfortable thoughts.

  21. Beautiful, Jacob. Thank you.

  22. Laura Berry says:

    Thank you. Thank you. I needed this today. Thank you.

  23. That was beautiful. Thank you for your words.

  24. That was beautiful, tragic, and eternal. This is what eternal perspective really is. I can only hope that greater sorrow holds the greater joy.

  25. Painful and beautiful.

  26. JennyP1969 says:

    You write very, very well, Jacob. Thank you for this post.

    But, for me, what’s the point of digging? I see only pain and despair. I see no hope. No end to sorrow, suffering and pain. It all looks bleak to me. You strive to become holy, but then you have to suffer the unholy forever. I’m worn down and worn out in this life from it. I have no will left to abide it for eternity. In the next life I’d like to learn about horses and spend my time with them and a fine dog named Sassy.

    But tonight I pray in these sleepless hours for those 26 families — wordless prayers of countless tears of yearning for their comfort, and soulful pleas for a millennial day when there aren’t supposed to be any days like today.

  27. Antonio Parr says:

    Jacob’s post is one of uncommon beauty. Thank you.

    Like all of you, I am deeply shaken by yesterday’s massacre of innocents. Surely the God of love weeps over such horror. And, surely, His only begotten Son has not forgotten the sorrows of the hearts that He bought on Gesthemane and Calvary, which sorrows most certainly include the unfathonable pain of yesterday’s shooting and the ache in our hearts in its aftermath.

    While it may be true that our God is a weeping God, the destiny that He has laid out before us is one where He intends to wipe away our tears, and where there will be no more sorrow and no more pain. The old sorrows and old pains will be done away with, as He makes all things new. Perhaps our Father is willing to give us something that He, Himself, cannot experience — an eternity unburdened by the pain that plagues creation. That is His promise, spoken through the pen of John the Revelator.

    In the interim, for those of us who wonder where God is at moments like this, the truth is that only He can answer that question. Still, rumors of glory abound, and we are left to be towards others a reflection of the love that our Heavenly Father has for his children. To the fullest extent of our power, we are to preach deliverence to the captive and the Gospel to the poor, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and comfort the souls imprisoned by physical and emotional and economic walls.

    “To lend each other a hand when we are falling, perhaps that’s the only work that matters in the end.” (Frederick Buechner)

  28. thanks Jacob, this kind of shines light into the dark tunnel of pain & sorrow.

  29. God wept with us yesterday. Yet unlike us, had the capacity to stop the events from happening and prevent the suffering of children, parents, and a nation. He believes His plan and promises outweigh the suffering. He believes it so much that he sent His child to similarly be innocently slain at our hands.
    It’s going to take me a while to reconcile all of this. Thank you, Jacob, your words have helped in this effort.

  30. Thanks for commenting everyone.

    It’s possible that God has reserved some kind of existence for his children where they no longer suffer in any way. I don’t think such a view is adequately scriptural, but even if it ends up being the case, for my part, that’s the ticket that I would give back. I’m imperfectly courageous and lack the endurance on this point, but as long as there is suffering somewhere, I want a part in helping to alleviate it. As long as there are beings somewhere in the universe that are in torment and need help, I want to become the kind of being that rushes to the front. I shrink on a regular basis from this, but I have the hope that with God’s help I can and am becoming more like this, as one who can endure what needs to be endured in order to to extend charity to all.

    It’s my conviction that Christ never really knew me, that we never truly locked eyes in familiarity and understanding, until he felt as alone as I’ve felt, until he realized that there was no help coming, as many of the victims yesterday surely realized at some point before their deaths. In that moment he became what I needed him to become in order to accept whatever he would ask me and his disciples to do next.

  31. Antonio Parr says:

    Jacob – the promise of a place where suffering ends is quite scriptural and is the great promise and assurance of Christendom. No more death. No more sorrow. Our tears washed away. The light of the Son shining before us. Who would not hope for such an ending to the often tragic and brutal journey of mortality? John the Revelator was given this vision while imprisoned, and I can think of no good reason to disavow such a hopeful promise.

  32. I finally came around to this, Jacob. Thanks.

  33. Thanks, Jacob.

  34. I probably worded my comment a little too rigidly. God will wipe the tears from our eyes and in a certain qualitative sense certain kinds of suffering, particular the kinds that an immortal body mitigates against, might no longer apply. But the notion is very strong in the scriptures and Mormon thought in general that we are eternal co-participators with God in salvation. Enoch’s experience was typological in the sense that it represent, in my view, part of what it means for us to become exalted and continue in the work of the gods. And there is simply no way around that being a work that includes sorrowing for others’ sins and suffering. So while we can look forward to a type of existence where we are not so helpless and stalked by death and physical pain, that all kinds of suffering, particularly in the form of being with others and feeling compassion and empathy and sorrow for what they have to endure magically disappears, as if we could ever stop feeling compassion for beings who continue in mortal existence, I don’t think is right. What we really want in the end, I believe, is not to be enslaved to hopelessness and despair over our lot, and that I think we can firmly believe will be the case. But I reject some kind of existence like the old Catholic theocentric heaven where I am utterly anesthetized against my fellow beings who are still in their mortal sojourn.

  35. I should also say that wiping the tears from eyes is the essence of the God-life, an activity that we must try to emulate here as best we can if we are his disciples.

  36. #35 – That, in a nutshell, is how I view the purpose of this life – to give us a chance to learn to comfort AND mourn.

    “There must needs be opposition in all things.”

    I know I can say that from a condition of relative luxury, but I believe it nonetheless.

  37. Antonio Parr says:

    Jacob –

    I think you do a disservice to the Catholic view of heaven. John the Revelator describes the joyful eternal condition of the Overcomers as a post-mortal experience. There is no hint of indifference over the suffering of others, rather, there is a calm and a peace waiting for those who have weathered life’s storms. My status as a Latter- Day Saint does not remove me from the trust in and hope for the joyful peace that awaits Christ’s disciples. I accept the Bible as true and accept John’s vision as one that was divinely inspired.

    Notwithstanding the above, I thank you for your post, which moved me deeply.

  38. #37 – “There is no hint of indifference over the suffering of others.”

    What generated that thought? It’s nowhere in the post or any of the subsequent comments.

    Also, there is no disservice done when something is not addressed at all in a forum where it wouldn’t be expected to be addressed – and where, in a real way, it is diametrically opposed to the actual point being made.

  39. Iow, “the old Catholic” view was represented quite accurately, any modern Catholic view notwithstanding.

  40. That’s what I get for commenting when I’m not in a good mood. Sorry, Antonio, for my snippiness. It was unwarranted.

    Jacob, if you want to delete my last few comments, feel free to do so.

  41. Sharee Hughes says:

    Thank you for this post. I had never quite looked at God or Gdhood in quite this way before.

  42. Antonio Parr says:

    Ray:

    No need whatsoever to apologize. What could be a more emotional issue than the tragedy that has impacted us all in such a profound way? Forgiveness for each other should abound in times like these, as the pain is so immense and the answers so difficult to articulate or grasp.

    Peace of Christ to you. And deep, deep prayers for the families and students and teachers and administrators of Sandy Hook Elementary.

  43. Mary-Catherine says:

    Absolutely beautiful.

  44. This has taken on more meaning for my wife and I as we discovered last night that one of the child victims is a granddaughter of two of our high school classmates. We are now trying to mourn with and comfort those friends and others who were close to the family.

  45. Jacob.

  46. Antonio Parr says:

    Kevin –

    Prayers for you and your friends.

  47. JennyP1969 says:

    Jacob, I re-read your beautifully written post again today. There’s so much there to ponder, and I’m sure to read it from time to time in my tomorrows. Thank you again for writing it.

    I thought the Lord promised we could enter into His rest, that we could rest from the cares and labors of this world. I thought He promised unspeakable joy. I’ve lost half my siblings and 1/3 of all my children spiritually with hardcore rejection of what they perceive as a brainwashing, controlling, and misogynistic church. The pain and grief is non-extinguishable. Perhaps if I continue to keep my beloved covenants, they will find their way home someday in a nebulous hereafter. But I must tell you I have no desire to have spirit children to go through losing 1/3 again before mortality, nor many more during mortality. I’ve had enough pain for many lifetimes well-beyond my families. If exaltation is more pain, suffering and weeping, then how does the Lord invite us to enter into His rest? What rest would that be exactly? I thought it was rest from the cares and labors of this world. The labor isn’t an issue for me. But the cares is how I’ve pressed forward with a perfect brightness of hope. I’ve wept with many others for their sorrows. I’ve put my arms around them when nothing else would do. I’ve listened as they’ve suffered and mourned. Surely, I’ve been God’s ears, arms and a portion of His love. I did this because I thought I was on His delegated errand while He was enjoying Heaven.

    I’ve experienced faithful members comments that parents who lose children messed up by being this or that, or not being this or that. I’ve experienced marginalization in lieu of understanding and empathy at various times because of questions I have. Members have oftentimes been the least compassionate or empathetic. They don’t weep for many of others sorrows—they judge them. Sometimes they are quite mean, actually. Is this the rest I may find someday? Will I find your empathy and compassion there, Jacob? Your tears?

    My children live, but are lost. They’ve been destroyed by past addictions and secular ideologies and the allure of temporal pleasures and fun. No one weeps for them but me. I have often felt God cares and He sends the Spirit to comfort me. But, honestly, I’ve never once felt He wept. I hope He has a Godlike strength to comfort, guide, and help; but I hope with all my heart He feels no more pain and does not suffer at all any more over any of His children. I hope His and Mother’s tears are only tears of joy.

    “Or what’s a Heaven for?”

  48. Jenny, I honestly don’t know what to say concerning your loss. Most words will be anything from totally insufficient to highly inappropriate. But since this is a forum for discussing in comments what is posted, you deserve some kind of response, however inadequate.

    As we’ve already seen in previous comments, there are various ways of interpreting the scriptures concerning the nature of the next phase of human existence, after death. I tempered my interpretation a bit in response to Antonio, but I still have a basic personal conviction concerning what I originally wrote. It’s a conviction, however, that I’m happy to revise as I gain knowledge and experience, and more is revealed to me on a personal level.

    I don’t yet have children old enough to lose to addiction and ideology, so I can’t claim to fully understand what that is like. I do, however, have experience with losing faith, losing hope, feeling abandoned by God and my fellow church members. I wrote about one such experience beginning here, if you’re interested: http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/05/13/deaths-and-rebirths-part-1-the-descent/

    I learned from that experience that others can testify to you about their personal convictions, tied to how they read the scriptures, concerning the nature of God and the shape of the hope they have for the next life, but what what we really desperately yearn for is our own personal thunderbolt from on high, our own experience with the heavens weeping over our plight. We have a duty, I think, if that’s important to us, to reflect and study and pray, and do what we feel we can to understand and make sense of our experiences. But until we perceive some kind of divine communication, we are fully justified in wondering whether God weeps, whether heaven really cares for us and those we care about.

    For my own part, in answer to your question directed at me personally: yes, I will weep for you. I do weep for you. Wherever I am in the universe in the eternities, if you are are disconsolate, you will find me mourning for you, and being with you to the extent that you allow. For my part, if there is a place of pure rest and joy where not even sorrow penetrates our being, then I would turn my back on it, if necessary, in order to mourn with you over your suffering. Maybe this is is the essential reason God is in the end worthy of our worship, that he knows of this realm of paradisiacal non-suffering and pure bliss, maybe he even created it, but he couldn’t leave us to suffer and die alone–so he doesn’t fully dwell there, he attends constantly to his human vineyards and the experiences of his children there. And maybe he presents us with that choice as well: “You can go to the that eternal realm of painless ness and loss of sorrow. Or you can join with me and my Son in the work of eternal lives, in being with, in some way, those who suffer and mourn. We couldn’t leave them and we invite you to stay with us so that they can receive the help and love they need.”

    I don’t know. All of this is consistent with my understanding of God, but it needn’t, of course, be the case. I only know that as far as I am concerned, and I am confident many others feel this way as well and even that this is what, in the end, constitutes God as divine, I feel inclined to eternally mourn and comfort, and likely to always need the same, on some level. At the end of the talk from Elder Holland I quoted in the post, he reminds us of this from Joseph Smith: “the nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs.”

  49. This was beautiful. Thank you.

  50. Kevin, yes, what Antonio said. Prayers and thoughts, and the hope that those in your circles will be there to mourn and comfort.

  51. Poignantly written. “Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, lifting up the hands that hang down, weeding, dunging, trimming, pruning, weeping that we can’t do anymore but realizing that there is still more to be done, always more to be done–this is the life of a God: tasks to be accomplished, not reasons to be given.” – Our reasons can become our tasks, but sometimes our tasks overwhelms us to the point of incapacitating us to do anything. Small steps can be effective too. Sometimes even more effective than one huge one.

  52. Beautiful! By now I am sure most who read this saw Robbie Parker on the news, He lost his daughter Emilie in the shooting. He was the first parent to face the media. I got the feeling he is LDS, and yes he is. He gave a beautiful tribute to his Emilie. He showed compassion, grace, and class and truly showed the TRUE LOVE of CHRIST in what he said.

    Regarding some comments made: I lost a child unexpectedly and members were horrible about it. So were non-members but I did not expect the insensitive, snarky, rude, etc, comments from members who believe in the restored Gospel of Christ. Losing my beautiful child reinforced my faith. But I saw members in a new way, unfortunately. And because of how members reacted to my loss I am a very guarded person. I am still compassionate and have passion for what I believe, but…..

    Not long after losing my second born child a gunman went to my oldest child’s school. I know the helplessness and loss of power (that happened when we lost our child too) of not knowing what is happening. The area is blocked off, chaos reigns, the police won’t talk. It doesn’t makes sense, what people do to other people. When things like this happen we REALLY need to stop and look at ourselves, ask if we are truly doing what we are supposed to do as members of the restored Gospel, are we really living and acting as Christ would have us do. For a few days, some do, but then go back to doing the same old things- gossiping, ignoring those not in our circle of friends, being arrogant because of high callings, arrogant because of wealth, ignoring those we think are weird or different, starting rumors, not forgiving, etc.
    Jacob, I like what you have said, thank you.
    Jenny, I know what you mean and I understand. I have family members lost to addictions and mental health issues and in trying to help them I have suffered and have had them do bad things to me. I know the loneliness.

  53. JennyP1969 says:

    Thank you, Jacob. I was asking rhetorically, but feel blessed by your answer. Still, I ask, what does “enter into my rest,” and “rest from all pain and sorrow,” mean? What does “rest from the cares and labors of this world” mean? I would appreciate yours and others thoughts.

    Now, one last thought. You are a better man today than the woman I will ever be. You are obviously young and not had as many years of suffering, which may or may not affect your spiritual gifts. I hope your gifts only grow, come what may. I weary of the constant claim that women are more spiritual and wise. Such belief is a disservice to men, as well as women. If your version of exaltation is correct, I am grateful you will be there. I will be learning about horses, then eco systems, then solar systems, and so on. My work will be important. But yours will be far more holy. If my husband is “given” more women, I will be in some faraway corner of the Kingdom mourning forever. And I will be studying and learning how to build, “create” and “decorate” throughout eternity. But I will be in mourning for the pain of him turning to others when he should only turn to me and be one. Perhaps there will be someone to mourn with me and understand such unbearable agony. LDS heaven is not such a hoped for place for women already, and your version lays my heart upon the ground.

  54. Doug Hudson says:

    Pardon a theological question, is the Mormon Heavenly Father supposed to be omnipotent? I recall reading somewhere that there were rules that He had to follow that limited His actions, but I can’t place it.

    I ask because a benevolent but non-omnipotent God does not pose the same problem of theodicy that an omnipotent Deity does.

  55. Olde Skool says:

    Doug– As I understand it, God’s power cannot override the agency of any creature. I’m not sure that make God not omnipotent, though I can imagine that other theologies might object that it does. In my understanding, it’s rather that God’s power is vast and profound and universal, but honors the self-determination of his creations, because it is through their self-determination that they are most able to develop real virtue, using the God-given gifts of reason and choosing.

  56. Doug Hudson says:

    Olde Skool, Thanks. Your second part raises the other problem with an omnipotent God–if He wants his creations to be virtuous, why not just create them that way? Why bother forcing them to learn virtue on their own?

    If I recall correctly, Joseph Smith taught that humans were created from “intelligences” that were NOT created by the Heavenly Father, which would explain why God didn’t just create perfect beings to begin with, and makes the emphasis on agency much more understandable.

    Again, I’m not entirely sure of my grasp on Mormon theology, but I think that by removing creation ex nihilo and positing that God has certain rules that He must follow, Joseph Smith managed to deal with the problem of theodicy in a way that other Christian faiths can’t.

    Which is no comfort at all to those who grieve, of course, except perhaps insofar as they don’t need to ask God why He permit such things. He permits them because He has to. But (to bring it around to the original post), He is here to grieve with those who grieve, and to heal.

  57. Doug–

    I agree with you that Mormon theology does answer the problem of theodicy, though in a way that may make some other Christian interpreters uncomfortable precisely because they interpret it as limiting God’s omnipotence.

    I think that John Milton can speak to this point better than I can. Check out this passage, from his treatise _Areopagitica_:

    “Good and evill we know in the field of this World grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involv’d and interwoven with the knowledge of evill, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discern’d, that those confused seeds which were impos’d on Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixt. It was from out the rinde of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evill as two twins cleaving together leapt forth into the World. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evill, that is to say of knowing good by evill. As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdome can there be to choose, what continence to forbeare without the knowledge of evill? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloister’d vertue, unexercis’d & unbreath’d, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortall garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat….That which purifies us is triall, and triall is by what is contrary. That vertue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evill, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank vertue, not a pure; her whitenesse is but an excrementall whitenesse…”

    The whole text is here: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/areopagitica/text.shtml

    And I think that Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens talk very well about Mormon theology’s premium on learned virtue in their new book _The God Who Weeps_. I’m delighted that there’s a resurgence of conversation about theology going on in Mormon culture, because theology is pretty much where I live.

    And, as you say, it’s moving to consider a God who grieves along with us, and puts upon us the burden of learning to grieve better with one another if we seek to imitate God’s virtues.

  58. Excellent post, Jacob. Very well said….

  59. Thanks for this post, Jacob.

  60. Antonio Parr says:

    The challenge of trying to articulate Mormon theology is that there arguably is no such thing as Mormon theology. The absence of such a construct is not necessarily a bad thing, as it allows Jacob and I to worship and serve together notwithstanding our different perspectives as to what lies beyond this life. (The promise of no more sorrow and no more pain is one that is an essential element of my faith, and one that i have referred to at every funeral service that I have ever participated in. The promise is beautiful – read Rev 21:3-5 – and one that is, for me, an essential promise that I share as I mourn with those who mourn.)

  61. Jenny,
    I don’t think there is an LDS woman who hasn’t had the same thoughts and feelings. The only comfort I have comes from my faith in knowing I do not know or understand all things nor can I while still here in mortality. I know that God knows and for here and now, that is all I can know. I also know His world is just and merciful. Our perspective and understanding in this life, I imagine, will be more whole once we leave mortality. We may remember people and situations we had with them before this life that change our current perspective.
    Here we have no memory of it so here is all we know of right now. But that will change and when it does, I expect
    we will all breathe a sigh of relief as we see our worst fears are unfounded.
    I believe Deity knows what our pains feel like. But they also have a more whole, balanced perception–able to put it into context, if you will. They see the end from the beginning. When they see us is in pain now, they can look ahead and see us experiencing joy in the future as if it were happening now. They know whatever we go through here, they see it will be worth it later. Plus, they have also experienced firsthand everything we do in order to get where they are. Been there, done that and they know where they, and where we, end up–and it’s good–so good
    we mortals can’t even begin to comprehend it. Children have to trust that their parents know and understand what they can’t–and parents do. Especially the heavenly ones! I hope this helps, Jenny.

  62. Thank you, Meg. I used to believe all you just wrote to me. I had hope in these beliefs. But then I learned far more about Joseph’s and Brigham’s teachings that are not disclosed in our lessons. Well, enough said.

    Thank you again.

  63. Nelson Cannon says:

    So what does exalted mean? What is heaven like? Is there such a thing as being where there is no more pain and suffering?

    There are certainly many ways how heaven could be better than this life. There could be no physical pain or deformity or limitations. We could live forever, without disease or hunger. We could be physically glorious, full of light. That would be a world where there is no pain and no suffering.

    But would that be all there is? Would we lounge near the pool of the great country club in the sky, forever thanking the omnipotent benefactor who makes sure that the monthly dues are always taken care of? This may be one form of heavenly glory. I don’t know. But I don’t want it to be mine.

    The heaven I hope for is filled with beings who long for righteousness, who wish for light to enter into every corner of the void. They know how to receive and to give love. They are united in pushing out the borders of that love to all creatures, all spirits, all intelligences. Their great power comes not just from being near one who is more powerful than they all, but also from being aligned with Him. They want what He wants.

    The heaven I long for is a busy place. The citizens there do not just bask in the sun, they seek to help the sun shine. Their efforts give them purpose and reason. And because they are united in their cause, they are not alone. When pain comes, the spiritual pain that always is associated with loving another, they know that neighbors will sit with them through the long night. They risk suffering so that they might bring joy to others. And they know that when there is suffering it purifies them.

    The fire of suffering does not cause us to yearn for pain. But it certainly helps us see the beautiful scars of healing, deep cut lines that are not visible to everyone. Most certainly, purifying suffering pushes us to be with others who suffer, to help them carry their burdens. And painful as that may be, it is what causes joy to come in the morning.

    Swimming pools in the hot afternoon sun are nice; I enjoy them now and then. But give me beautiful sunrises. I never tire of them.

  64. Antonio Parr says:

    Nelson: a future of eternal creativity and the promise of Revelations 21:3-5 are not mutually exclusive. This magnificent, beautiful world of ours is also one that is beset by unspeakable horror. We have glimpses of eternal splendour, but see them only through a glass, darkly. All of us will lose loved ones to death, all of us will succumb to sin, and all of us will face the end of our mortal journeys. And yet some are so stricken by loneliness and hatred and violence that their mortal journeys carry a pain that can only be imagined by the mass of humanity. The promise that was given to John on the island of Patmos is the only one that can comfort those who have known life at its worse:

    3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

    4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

    5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.

    True and faithful words, indeed. My message to the families of the victims of Sandy Hook elementary (the father of one of the young victims is a former high school classmate of mine), is that the incomprehensible pain that he now bears will not last forever. That there is a place awaiting him and his daughter where God will wipe away the tears that flood his eyes, and fill the void that racks his soul. That death and sorrow and crying will be no more, replaced by the peace and healing and love and life and light of our Savior. This is the promise of scripture, and one that I claim with hope and faith and gratitude.

  65. JennyP1969: Why assume that something is true just because Joseph or Brigham taught it? They too could speculate. The doctrine of continuing revelation means that we must allow for our understanding to continue to grow and change, and we must leave behind things taught earlier if they are not true.

  66. Jenny,
    I think Jim F. is right. Don’t give up until the moment all the information is known by all–and that isn’t going to happen
    until the Savior comes again. In the early Church days, there was a lot of speculation. Today we know that there
    are things we don’t know the answer to nor can we even if we do belong to ‘true’ church. I don’t mind speculation but today we know to take it for what it is–just speculation. Back then, there was a lot of excitement especially with Mormonism because it was thinking outside the box for a Christian faith–the hope for mankind to be exalted one day.
    With a truth like that, no wonder early church leaders were wondering what else might be true and open new
    horizons for mankind. And their formal education was so limited back then. Sure Brigham Young was wrong about thinking men inhabited the moon–but now scientists think there are most likely other worlds that do have life on them.
    I often think it’s unfair to judge those church leaders by today’s world–especially when we don’t know them personally. What if things are being attributed to them and it’s not true. I really want to see the history of the world on Judgment Day! That should clear everything up and answer all the questions once and for all. Everyone was so ignorant back then about so many subjects. These people had all to do to survive –life was just physically very harsh. And we know prophets are not infallible. We can’t judge anything until we have all the information, the correct information. I sure don’t want to be judged based on what people wrote about me in their journals. Before
    someone passes judgment on me, I want to be there so I can say what really happened.

  67. JennyP1969 says:

    Jim and Meg: thanks for your comments–I know you are trying to comfort me and I am grateful for that.

    I should let it go at that, but….I’d like you to know that the things taught earlier by prophets of the restoration are still believed today. Plural marriage has never been taken out of our canon, and three current apostles are married plurally. No speculation involved. I have attended multiple women’s conferences where CES directors, etc. teach, “Sisters, you better make your mind up to accepting plural marriage, or else you will not be exalted, and will serve as angels to those who are more spiritually mature who do accept this glorious, ennobling and eternal principle.” And then they go on to make their case for it using the scriptures and latter-day prophets general conference talks. I’ve learned very little through journals. Not one latter-day prophet, seer, or revelator has ever even hinted that it will be optional. Perhaps they don’t know, you say. Hmm.

    I thought we taught that if you lack wisdom, you could ask God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it will be given them. So I truly believe our leaders are silent on this because they know “it’s the true order of things,” but hesitate to incite the “spiritually immature,” the press, and the women of the church. Otherwise, they’d apply James 1:5 and ease many troubled hearts.

    So I’ll be off somewhere, like I said, in my part of the cosmos learning and applying. I’ll make the most of it, as I do here. I’ve held dying women whose husbands couldn’t bear to. I’ve fed nursing home patients, helped bury little children taken too soon. I’ve visited the abused, have been abused, have stood with detoxing alcoholics and the drug addicted. I’ve been at bloody car accidents trying to help burned and battered victims hold on until help arrives. I’ve been with women whose husbands were unfaithful. Ive spent decades with the youth, many of whom were gay and in despair, or suicidal, or felt worthless. I’ve borne many burdens of others, as well as my own — usually concurrently. I’ve had great pain physically, mentally and now spiritually. I’m a student of the scriptures and our theology. Much of the gospel is glorious, bringing forth depths and levels of ourselves we never knew were there. I love that part, and I accept all the suffering in this life.

    But not the next. Not for one minute in the next. Alma says that the way we view things here is the way we will view them there. Hmmm…perhaps he was just speculating?

  68. “I have attended multiple women’s conferences where CES directors, etc. teach, “Sisters, you better make your mind up to accepting plural marriage, or else you will not be exalted, and will serve as angels to those who are more spiritually mature who do accept this glorious, ennobling and eternal principle.”

    For what it’s worth, Jenny, I’ve attended lots of conferences (including as a Seminary and Institute teacher more than once) in my nearly 50 years in the LDS Church, and I’ve never heard anyone, at any time, in any setting, say that – or even hint at it. It certainly is not the official position of the Church and hasn’t been for over a hundred years. It also is interesting that the strongest statements of the long distant past still didn’t convince the majority of members to accept it. That’s not a minor point, imo.

    Yes, old teachings hang on long past their expiration date (in every organization that exists) and become folk beliefs, but the top leadership of the Church hasn’t taught that for a long, long, long time – and I would be tempted to bet my eternal existence that the large majority of the membership doesn’t believe it. That might be small comfort to you, but I think it is both important and accurate.

    Having said that, I hope you find the peace you seek. “May there be a road.”

  69. Jenny,
    I also haven’t ever heard that eternal polygamy is mandatory for everyone exalted. I’ve heard it may be an option but the majority may elect to opt out. All that is required for exaltation is that one has been married in the temple once. CES directors are teachers who may be opinionated but they do not have any more knowledge about this than the rest of us. They have not seen into heaven and therefore can’t say with assurance how things are.
    Quite frankly, that quote sounds like a Mormon male version of the Muslim male terrorist expecting he’s going to be met in the hereafter with a reward of 40 virgins. Bruce R. McConkie’s perception about blacks and the priesthood was mistaken.
    And he humbly admitted it openly when that was understood. We understood that about as well as we do now about polygamy /eternity –we can be quite mistaken. I find it very hard to believe that men and women who are exalted beings are not equal in all things and are not equally happy with their lives. That makes no sense whatsoever to me.
    I try to always have Charity but I always do have Faith and Hope. And I want you to have those too.

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