When soldiers break down in my office, they often say something like “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to do this.” They feel shame amidst a military culture that often believes emotion to be weakness. This sort of culture stands in stark opposition to our broader culture, which tells us that our emotions are everything. “Be true to yourself,” they say. “If it feels right, do it.”
Friends, I would urge you to resist both extremes. The Bible neither demonizes nor deifies our tears. Rather, it treats them as an appropriate response to the brokenness of this world. Let’s look at a few biblical truths about our tears:
1. Tears are a healthy heart’s response to a broken world.
In Psalm 42, the psalmist contends with his soul and acknowledges his grief: “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Ps. 42:3). Tears are an appropriate response to human rebellion and to the perceived absence of God. Our hearts were created to worship God and anything that obscures and obstructs the glory of God is worthy of our tears.
Jesus wept at Jerusalem’s unbelief and the judgment that it invited (Luke 19:41–44). He also wept at the desecration of his creation. In John 1, we learn that “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). This world and humanity reflect the beauty of the eternal Son of God. But in John 11, we see that the garden has become a tomb. Jesus weeps (John 11:35).
If the Son of God can weep, then we are most certainly permitted to as well. We can weep over the power of sin in our hearts and its effect in the world—over terminal diseases and death. We not only can weep over these things, we should. What are tears for if not to grieve this wilderness world in anticipation of the garden yet to come?
2. For the Christian, tears are accompanied by hope.
Grief is bitter for all, but it has a particular bitterness for those who don’t know Jesus. They can’t explain why death has come, nor can they discern how death must end. Christians, on the other hand, know that this world in all its brokenness will be remade. The psalmist recognizes this in Psalm 42: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 42:11).
Where does this salvation come from? It comes from Jesus, who, after weeping, cried out, “Lazarus, come out,” and his friend arose from the grave (John 11:43–44). It was not merely the call of Jesus that ushered Lazarus from the tomb, but his coming sacrifice. Jesus would be condemned and crucified. The innocent one would assume the grave of the guilty.
And he would overcome the grave: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). He has been raised, so we have imperishable hope: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:13–14).
3. Our tears will be wiped away.
Tears are not the problem. They reflect the problem in a godly, biblical sort of way. They remind us that we are not home yet; this earthly journey will be accompanied by the thorns and thistles of human brokenness. But, accompanied by hope, our tears lift our eyes to a day when there will be no more reasons to cry: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
The Lamb of God came initially for our sin, not our tears. His victory over sin and death gives us hope amidst our tears, but it does not remove them. In glory, though, that’s the promise. One day, our faith will become sight, and the morning of joy will replace the long evening of sorrow.
Dear brothers and sisters, allow your tears their due effect. This world is worthy of our grief and the saving purposes of God are worthy of our hope. Take your tears to Jesus until the day when he wipes them away once and for all.