I’ve always been an emotional person. I have enough thoughts to inject into nearly every moment of silence, and I am not afraid to voice them if asked. Those close to me know what I mean: I cannot help but think and feel and wonder, often out loud and randomly. I also cry. I cry often, more often then most people know. Sometimes it is randomly, sometimes it is spurred by beauty or darkness or affection or discontent. Mostly it is in private, where no one can see my outpour of emotion. But often, when I escape to that place of solitude, when my face hits the floor or the pillow, when I forget everything else and bury my head in my hands, or even when I wipe away a single tear, I have questions.
Why do I cry? Why does anyone cry? What does it say about us? What is the purpose of tears? Are tears even important?
The Language of our Emotions
Everyone cries. How often do you cry? What circumstances lead you to tears? Perhaps you cry easily: at the movies, speaking to a friend, reading a book, watching the news, listening to music. Maybe you are notoriously stoic, confident that if you gathered all your tears together they wouldn’t fill a shot glass. Either way, predisposed to tears or able to fight them at will, everyone cries.
Tears are important. No human being can claim to ever be without tears. Tears are often the apex of our deepest seated emotion – we cry out of both joy and out of sorrow. We cry from love, and sometimes from hate. We cry in comfort, and also in pain. Our tears are a physical representation of emotion – they come out when we are most vulnerable, when we feel most deeply and most transparently. Our tears, if they are genuine, affirm our thoughts and feelings, they let our minds know that what we are feeling is real. If public, or if shared among friends or family, our tears provide others with a picture of what is important to us. Our tears often speak louder than our words, louder even than our thoughts. Tears are the language of our emotions, when we weep we let our sentiments speak and write and perform freely, often in ways we cannot control. Tears are important.
A Theology of Tears
If tears are so important, if they are unavoidable and they come to us at our most vulnerable moments, then we need a way to use them for the glory of God, for his purpose and for his mission. As Christians, we need a theology of tears.
Tears often get a bad rap in society, because they can quickly become out of place. Tears can signify weakness, and in the wrong context they can be seen as embarrassing or inappropriate.We deem tears appropriate by what we deem to have significance or weight. Everyone expects tears at a funeral, but everyone mocks the athlete who cries after a loss (toughen up, it’s just a game!). Death is weighty to everyone, so tissues are always at hand at the funeral home. Weddings too – marriage is still considered a beautiful and weighty thing (until death do us part), important enough to cry over. But a football game? Only a select group of people cry about football games. After all, it is not life or death. Publicly or privately, we only feel comfortable crying about what we see as worth crying about. We cry about what we think is important.
So what is our theology of tears? We should cry about what is important, not what we think is important. As Christians, what we deem important can be far different than what our society or culture deems important. Crying for the right reasons means repenting of the sin of triviality and focusing on what God sees as important. If God were a man, and he were to cry, what would be important enough to make him cry?
God did become a man, and he did cry.
A quick search (try BibleGateway) reveals that in most translations, the word weep or wept occurs well over a hundred times in the Bible. Prophets wept, Moses wept, Joseph wept, David wept – the list goes on and on and culminates with Jesus Christ.
Jesus wept. He wept for his friend Lazarus, he wept over Jerusalem, he wept in prayer. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Crying was not beneath Jesus. God in the flesh wept often, and he wept out of love.
Jesus does not weep out of weakness, for he has none. He does not weep out of fear or pain or emotional overflow. Nor does he weep for no reason. How does Christ cry? He cries in love. He cries for those he cares about – for his chosen people, for his children, for his bride. He cries about what is important, namely their salvation and their continual union with him. He cries with us, because he is our great comforter and empathizer, who was tempted just as we are yet without sin.
Don’t Waste Your Tears
Christian, you will weep. It is inevitable. Some weeks or months it will be more than others. Some days it will be from joy, and some from sorrow. Some days it will come unexpectedly, and somedays it will come with much anticipation. However it comes, weep well. Your theology of tears should echo your theology of life: don’t waste it! Christian, don’t waste your tears.
Learn to cry like Jesus cried, with love in your heart. Cry often, out of compassion and love for the lost, as well as out of a burning desire to see the church grow and learn and be sanctified. Do not be afraid of your tears, let them flow with purpose. Let your heart cry every day, as often as it needs to. Break yourself down in private and sometimes in public, weeping in spirit and in body out of love for Christ, for his glory and his purposes. Weep over sin and eternal death and unrepentant hearts. Weep for yourself, weep for others. Shed tears, because tears are powerful. Cry, because the Bible shows us how. Weep, because Jesus did.
Why do we cry? Because we are not stoics or empty emotionalists. We feel and we hurt and we anguish, but most of all we love. We cry because we love, and we love because Jesus Christ first loved us. He bore all our sorrows, so that we might cry out of love and not of despair.
Many times you will cry and not feel love. You will cry and not feel Christ-like in your tears. Often our cries aren’t holy, they are out of fear and anxiety, out of frustration, anger, or deep rooted pain. It’s ok. These kind of tears can be used well. Let these tears flow too, but point them in the direction of Christ. He became man so that he might understand our fear and sorrow and temptations, and so that he can comfort us and point us towards his love. He cried perfectly so that we might cry imperfectly.
There will come a day with no more weeping. On that day, Jesus will wipe away all our tears. He will be fit to open the scroll, and he will reign and rule a kingdom where tears are no longer possible. As Christians, we long for that day! But until then, we weep with purpose. We cry as Christ did, in love. We cry not in hopelessness, but we point our imperfect tears towards our perfect comforter. We don’t waste our tears.
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
– Revelation 5:1-5