Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
010: Terryl & Fiona Givens – Faith, Doubt, and The God Who Weeps

010: Terryl & Fiona Givens – Faith, Doubt, and The God Who Weeps

We are proud to release Sarah Collett’s recent interview of Terryl and Fiona Givens. In this episode we are introduced to some of the beautiful themes in the Givens’ new book The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Terryl and Fiona also express their concern, empathy, and encouragement for those who experience doubt as a integral part of their relationship to faith and Mormonism.

Terryl Givens (PhD Comparative Literature, UNC Chapel Hill) holds the James A. Bostwick chair of English and is professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond. 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, and a biography (with Matthew Grow) of Parley Pratt (winner of the 2012 Best Book Award from the Mormon History Association). Fiona Givens (MA European History, University of Richmond) recently retired from directing the French Language program at Patrick Henry High School, in Ashland Virginia. Besides education, she has worked in translation services, as a lobbyist, and as communications director of a non-profit. A longtime collaborator in Terryls previous books, this is her first coauthorship.

We are incredibly grateful for the Givens, who graciously gave of their time and thoughts for our new podcast. Please check out The God Who Weeps, as well as Terryl’s recent Letter to a Doubter referenced in the interview. We encourage all of our listeners to also enjoy John Dehlin’s interview with Terryl Givens here.


  1. Ms.W

    Thank you so much for this very thoughtful and honest interview. I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to hear such brilliant people as Terryl and Fiona validate the doubt and questioning I feel. I’ve never thought about doubt being a spiritual gift, but now instead of loathing and fearing that part of myself I will embrace it. I’ve always felt that my doubt meant I wasn’t really a disciple of Christ yet because I didn’t KNOW. Now I see that I have CHOSEN discipleship in spite of my doubt and that makes my discipleship just as authentic, if not more than those who are just naturally inclined to follow Christ. What a refreshing perspective. Thank you.

  2. Laura

    This book is on my Christmas list, and after listening to this interview, I’m even more excited to read it. (Also super excited that Deseret Book is selling it.) I read People of Paradox and listened to a Mormon Stories interview with Brother Givens and it seemed he was able to bring to life so beautifully ideas swirling around in my brain that I had trouble articulating. I’ve long wondered what Fiona was like, and she also has this gift. Thanks so much! I’m learning to have “solidarity with the desolate” and it’s not always an easy path to tread alone. On a side note, I’ve always thought it was bogus idea, often repeated in Sunday School, that faith and doubt/fear can’t exist together. Where did that idea come from? Brother Given’s counter argument concerning exercising agency and choosing belief amidst competing feelings has been very healing to me.

    (A request to the makers of this blog: Is there any way you could add a pin button for pinterest so people could share podcasts with their friends? I pinned Brother Givens “Letter to a Doubter” but I had to go find a pic of him on the internet to do so. I tried to pin this episode but the picture was too small. Thanks!)

    1. David

      B H Roberts:

      Salvation, in some order of its many degrees, shall meet the soul of every man and every woman, bringing them unto that exaltation that their souls are capable of receiving, and saving them unto the uttermost—not all alike, any more than men are all alike here, no more than conditions are all alike here; but as the stars differ from each other in brightness or glory, so shall the rewards of men differ in the world which is to come, even “according to their works.” But no man shall be left out of the mercy and the grace of God, except only those who do violence unto it, after having once received it; for the crime of high treason against God, and a repudiation of the plan of life and salvation after having received it, merits such punishment and such destruction as is known only to God. But the remainder of the children of God shall find rest in some one of the many divisions of glory that are to be found in the kingdom of God, and shall find peace and glory equal to the development that they have made or are capable of making with the grand opportunities that will be presented to them, until progress shall be made from glory to glory, until every soul shall contain all that it is possible for it to receive, even endless progression. For God has decreed that those of the celestial glory, that is after the resurrection, shall minister to those of the terrestrial glory, and those of the terrestrial glory shall minister to them of the telestial glory; and I can conceive no reason why there should be this continual ministration of the higher to the lower glory but for the purpose of exalting all to a higher plane of glory, in the direction of the eternal progression which God has opened to the children of men. This explanation Mormonism makes possible to these facts that we see before us, and which are otherwise inexplicable. (June 21, 1896 discourse, in Collected Discourses 1886-1898, Volume 5)

      The question of advancement within the great divisions of glory celestial, terrestrial, and telestial; as also the question of advancement from one sphere of glory to another remains to be considered. In the revelation from which we have summarized what has been written here, in respect to the different degrees of glory, it is said that those of the terrestrial glory will be ministered unto by those of the celestial; and those of the telestial will be ministered unto by those of the terrestrial—that is, those of the higher glory minister to those of a lesser glory. I can conceive of no reason for all this administration of the higher to the lower, unless it be for the purpose of advancing our Father’s children along the lines of eternal progression. Whether or not in the great future, full of so many possibilities now hidden from us, they of the lesser glories after education and advancement within those spheres may at last emerge from them and make their way to the higher degrees of glory until at last they attain to the highest, is not revealed in the revelations of God, and any statement made on the subject must partake more or less of the nature of conjecture. But if it be granted that such a thing is possible, they who at the first entered into the celestial glory—having before them the privilege also of eternal progress—have been moving onward, so that the relative distance between them and those who have fought their way up from the lesser glories may be as great when the latter have come into the degrees of celestial glory in which the righteous at first stood, as it was at the commencement. Thus: Those whose faith and works are such only as to enable them to inherit a telestial glory, may arrive at last where those whose works in this life were such as to enable them to entrance into the celestial kingdom—they may arrive where these were, but never where they are. (New Witnesses for God, pp. 391-392)

      I attended the Prayer Circle in the evening. . . . In conversing upon various principles President Young said none would inherit this Earth when it became celestial & translated into the presence of God but those who would be crowned as Gods & able to endure the fullness of the presence of God, except they would be permitted to take with them some servants for whom they would be held responsible. All others would have to inherit another kingdom, even that kingdom agreeing with the law which they had kept. He said they would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy & advancing to a celestial kingdom, but it would be a slow progress. (Journal of Wilford Woodruff, August 5, 1855)

      “Words of the Prophet”, p. 24 (“Scriptural Items”); Scribe: Franklin D. Richards, August 1, 1843; CHO Ms/d/4409/Misc Minutes Collection.
      Hiram [Smith] said Aug 1st [18]43 Those of the Terrestrial Glory either advance to the Celestial or recede to the Telestial [or] else the moon could not be a type [viz. a symbol of that kingdom]. [for] it [the moon] “waxes & wanes”. Also that br George will be quickened by celestial glory having been ministered to by one of that Kingdom.

      J.D. 25:236; Franklin D. Richards; Discourse delivered in the Tabernacle, Logan, Cache County; Saturday afternoon; May 17, 1884.
      . . .but those in the terrestrial kingdom are those who will come forth at the time when Enoch comes back, when the Savior comes again to dwell upon the earth. . . .They will go forward, like unto the new moon, increasing in knowledge and brightness and glory, until they come to a fullness of celestial glory. During the Millennium multitudes of people who have not heard the gospel will hear and receive it and go forward into this glory, while those who will not go forward to a fullness will go back to that lesser glory which is likened unto the stars of heaven. . . .

      The Articles of Faith, by James E. Talmage; 1st Edition, pp. 420-421, 1899.
      It is reasonable to believe, in the absence of direct revelation by which alone absolute knowledge of the matter could be acquired, that, in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement from grade to grade within any kingdom, and from kingdom to kingdom, will be provided for. But if the recipients of a lower glory be enabled to advance, surely the intelligences of higher rank will not be stopped in their progress; and thus we may conclude, that degrees and grades will ever characterize the kingdoms of our God. Eternity is progressive; perfection is relative; the essential feature of God’s living purpose is its associated power of eternal increase.

      I am not a strict constructionalist, believing that we seal our eternal progress by what we do here. It is my belief that God will save all of His children that he can; and while, if we live unrighteously here, we shall not go to the other side in the same status, so to speak, as those who lived righteously; nevertheless, the unrighteous will have their chance, and in the eons of the eternities that are to follow, they, too, may climb to the destinies to which they who are righteous and serve God, have climbed to those eternities that are to come (J. Reuben Clark, Church News, week ending 23 April 1960, p. 3)

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  4. Mr. Casey S. Smith

    My name is Casey S. Smith. I’ve been serving Christ consistently since April 6th, 1997 one month prior to turning twenty. I’ve read through the Bible almost twelve times now. I went to a Southern Baptist Seminary for almost three years, attended well over fifty Churches ranging from all Christian denominations from Roman Catholic, Jehovah’s Witnesses, every form of Christendom’s Protestant Churches from Armenian to Calvinist. I’ve used all forms of Bible translations…NIV ’84, NIV 2011, NASB ’77, NASB ’95, KJV 1611, KJV 1789, GOD’S WORD, AMPLIFIED, NKJV, GOOD NEWS, NAB ST. JOSEPH EDITION, JERUSALEM, NEW JERUSALEM, ESV, LIVING, NEW LIVING, HOLMAN CHRISTIAN STANDARD, NEW WORLD TRANSLATION, NEW CENTURY, CEV, ALL SORTS OF STUDY BIBLES FROM THE NIV STUDY, JOHN MACARTHUR STUDY, PROTESTANT STUDY, LUTHERAN STUDY, GOD’S NAME STUDY – there’s not a Bible translation I have not used in my reading and studies. However I can’t seem to find the peace, stillness and contentment that Jesus promises to give. Sure, don’t let me mislead you, I have done much witnessing with the Gospel and much charity work. But I always find myself wanting and lacking something. For the most part I’ve been a consistent Calvinist believing strongly in God’s Sovereignty in Providence and Election. But I’ve been to Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian, Independent Baptist, Southern Baptist, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, American Presbyterian, Lutheran, Bible Churches, Reformed Churches, Orthodox Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Church of God, Trinitarian Pentecostal, Oneness Pentecostal. You name it, I’ve tried it! I have had studies with LDS missionaries but their approach for the most part is shallow not giving me enough theological depth. But I always find myself calling the Missionary Elders because I feel that the LDS Church has something I am looking for but never finding. I admire the open Canon theory and with anticipation and giddiness love the four books of Canon Bibles the LDS Church richly has. But I’m scared as well! I’ve always heard Mormonism is a cult! And I watched a YouTube broadcast from the 700 Club of a Mormon who died and went to hell because she believed a lie …LDS theology and teaching. Now I personally believe in annihilationism and not eternal hell fire and brimstone so I don’t know what to make of her story. But some rhetoric and anti-Mormon sites cause me to doubt. For example I’ve read that Heavenly Father had sex with Mary, that there is a divine mother (which I find NO TRACE of in Holy Scriptures-or the Protestant 66 book Bible) that God was once a man and we will be like God with our own planet, that God is living on a planet called KOBOL, that God has flesh and bone, Universalism…the problems there are verses such as, “I am Yahweh God and am not a man that I should change my mind”, “even the highest heavens cannot contain thee” and most of all there is Yahweh or Jehovah God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit but never a goddess or divine mother. Jesus is reigning in heaven at the right hand of God the Father. Why am I writing to you? Because something inside of me yearns for THE TRUTH! Something inside if me believes the LDS Church has what I’ve been searching for. I like the belief that Jesus’ atonement began in the Garden of Gathsemene and not first on the cross, I like that the LDS Church doesn’t use crosses or crucifixions but emphasizes the resurrected Christ, I like the four books of Canon that explain what is lacking in both the Protestant and Catholic Bibles. Can you help me or give me some advice? Can you direct me to Fiona & Terryl Givens?

    Mr. Casey S. Smith

    1. Oak

      Dear Casey,
      I hope this reply finds its way to you. I appreciate your posting these questions and am happy to try and answer them for you.

      Here’s a list of your questions/concerns, with some brief answers to consider.

      Q) I’ve read that Heavenly Father had sex with Mary
      A) This is not a church doctrine. There is a statement by one of the early church leaders who hinted something to this effect as to how Jesus was born, but this is not official church doctrine. God can create life just fine without such contact.

      Q) there is a divine mother (which I find NO TRACE of in Holy Scriptures-or the Protestant 66 book Bible)
      A) In Genesis 1:1, the word God in Hebrew is Elohim. The -im ending makes this a plural word. Verses later we read “let US create man in OUR image.” And “male and female created he them.” Who is represented in the US and OUR? If God was creating mankind in “our” image and he created them male and female, does it not make sense that he was referring to his wife?

      Q) that God was once a man and we will be like God with our own planet
      A) Jesus was called the Son of Man. This was not a reference to Jesus being the son of Joseph and Mary, but to God the Father who is an exalted man. There are many scriptures that talk about this notion. Romans 8:17-18 talk about the glory to be revealed in us as joint-heirs with Christ since we are literally the children of God. Children grow to become parents. Christ is a God and if we are to be joint-heirs, what does that make us? We don’t need a planet of our own, but we will have creative powers like God and who is to limit our potential to a planet?

      Q) that God is living on a planet called KOBOL
      A) In the book of Abraham 3:3 it says, “And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.” So God doesn’t live on a planet or star named Kolob, but dwells NEAR it.

      Q) that God has flesh and bone
      A) To most of the Christian world, this is a great mystery, yet they believe in the resurrection which gave Christ a body which was tangible so the disciples could feel it. The difference for the LDS faith is that we believe God the Father and God the Son are distinct beings. Jesus the Son of God, took upon himself a body precisely so that he could become like His Father.
      John 5:19 “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.”

      Q) problems there are verses such as, “I am Yahweh God and am not a man that I should change my mind”, “even the highest heavens cannot contain thee”
      A) God is an exalted man, not a fickle and hypocritical man. When God purposes something, he carries it out. The mind and will of God is unchanging in his purposes, yet we do read of times of intervention when God threatened to wipe out Israel and Moses interceded for them, just as Jesus intercedes for us to save us from spiritual destruction.

      Q) most of all there is Yahweh or Jehovah God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit but never a goddess or divine mother. Jesus is reigning in heaven at the right hand of God the Father.
      A) There is an observed priesthood order in things. God the Father reigns and his Son, the Heir, reigns under Him. The fact that there is no mention of a Heavenly Mother directly, doesn’t preclude her existence and divinity. As mentioned above, who are the “us” and “our” in Genesis 1:26-27? In the Book of Mormon there is one verse which indirectly mentions a mother in heaven. The prophet Nephi has a vision and sees Mary, the mother of Jesus, and an angel says to him, “…Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.” (1 Nep. 11:18). If the angel identifies a mother after the manner of the flesh, then there must also be a mother after the manner of the spirit, if we have a father of our spirits as well.

      Hope that helps answer some of your questions.


  5. Matt Lillywhite

    Hi Casey, it looks like you have studied in great depth and are seeking truth.
    You posed a lot of questions/statements at the end of your post. Can you clarify your questions a little bit?
    My name is Matt Lillywhite, my credentials are not as extensive as yours. I love to study and learn, I read mostly from the King James Version of the bible, I have only read it twice, but studied many of the stories in depth many times. I also study from the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants. I am 28 years old, a professional electrician, a follower of Christ, and a seeker of truth.
    I would love to find answers with you for your questions.


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