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).