You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
After my wife Michele discovered a small, simple upright piano free on Facebook Marketplace we found ourselves meeting a delightful lady in a delightful old farmhouse outside Elk River. Michele sat down to the piano that, for this lady, held many memories of her children learning and making music. Michele, as only she can, began to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the lady’s eyes filled with tears and she said, “It’s just so beautiful it makes me cry!”
Crying is an odd phenomenon, if you think about it. Michele played a series of notes on a mechanical contraption, they struck this lady’s eardrums, and as they did, her tear ducts produced so much extra fluid it ran down her cheeks. Somehow it’s less romantic put that way.
When someone really gets into a good cry, not only do their eyes have an overabundance of lubricant running down the face, they often utter weird, meaningless noises and their entire body involuntarily shudders. Incidentally, laughing is almost indistinguishable from crying. And who knows in a moment of joy whether we will laugh or cry, and does it really matter? Laughing might not incapacitate us quite as severely as crying (which is why you pretty much have to sit down for a good one), but still it’s best not to start giggling uncontrollably if pushing a piano up a flight of stairs.
Among earthly creatures, crying is unique to human beings. For that reason, I suspect there’s a deeply soulish element to it, making the scientist’s job of explaining why we laugh, why we cry, and what is happening to us when we do almost impossible:
Charles Darwin once declared emotional tears “purposeless,” and nearly 150 years later, emotional crying remains one of the human body’s more confounding mysteries. Though some other species shed tears reflexively as a result of pain or irritation, humans are the only creatures whose tears can be triggered by their feelings.https://time.com/4254089/science-crying/
When deeply moved in spirit, it’s natural a person would break out in tears, as Jesus himself did (John 11:33, 35). And when a person ceases crying, it’s natural to assume his soul is at peace (2 Sam 12:16-23). The glorious line, “God himself shall wipe all tears from their eyes” surely means more than God will restrict any excessive output by our lacrimal glands.
Tears Cause Instinctive Action
Tears instinctively command attention, compassion, and action from those who see them fall. Last week my family and I gathered around our faithful dog Lucy as she lay dying. We said our goodbyes and together thanked the Lord for her life, her service to us, and the fun memories with her. When our daughter Violet, just turned three, saw her mother’s tears she said, “It’s okay Mom.” Then, as Lucy raised up her head for a moment, Violet excitedly said, “See Mom, she’s better!” It’s instinctive, even God-like to want to dry someone’s tears when we see them.
As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”Luke 7:12-13
Tears are valuable, or God wouldn’t store them in his bottle (Psa 56:8). Tears are powerful, or they wouldn’t move the heart of God (Isa 38:5). But in a sinful world, anything that valuable and that powerful is bound to be weaponized. Tears can bypass our rational filters en route to our soul, and when they do, they command our actions not by the force of reason, but of emotion. Tears trigger an instinct to act compassionately before stopping to think rationally. Which is why, I suppose, the crocodile’s tears are so useful. I can’t help but (discreetly) laugh when Violet bursts into tears about something I’ve forbidden and says between sobs, “Dad, I’m crying!” She knows how the game is supposed to work.
Samson had to learn how the game works twice, at great cost. The first time his new bride cried their entire honeymoon until he gave in to her wishes; in the aftermath she was given to his best man and shortly thereafter burnt to ashes. Good times. When Delilah cried her eyes out he lost his hair, then his eyes, and ultimately his life.
Tears Identify True Tragedy
God incinerated Aaron’s sons without warning. Moses told Aaron if he mourned, God would strike him dead (Lev. 10:6). Why?
As High Priest, Aaron was to reflect God’s perspective on the event: the triumph of holiness over the profanity of rebellious men. This was no cause for sorrow! Though the nation had every right to expect a bereft father to mourn the death of his sons, Aaron must refuse to mourn and thus vindicate God’s actions. “Yes, Lord, they deserved it. Good job, Lord.”
Tough. But this helps us understand that the tears (or lack thereof) of the man of God are given to help us see things from God’s perspective, which just may be different than we’d immediately presume. Ezekiel 24 contains a similarly vivid example:
“Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead…
So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died.Ezekiel 24:16-18
Ezekiel’s neighbors understandably marveled at his apparent apathy toward his wife’s sudden death, directly by God’s hand no less. How could anyone not cry in that situation? The meaning of the living parable was this: because of the wickedness of God’s people, God was about to destroy his own temple, and he wasn’t sad about the loss of the building. And since God wasn’t crying over that, they shouldn’t be either:
…you shall not mourn or weep, but you shall rot away in your iniquities and groan to one another. Thus shall Ezekiel be to you a sign; according to all that he has done you shall do.Ezekiel 24:23b-24
The destruction of the temple was not the tragedy to weep over. The tragedy of a people rotting in their iniquity was.
The observer of Christian culture will have noticed an uptick of tears shed in print and pulpits over the past decade or so. Famous pastors often speak about how this cultural event or that has caused them to cry. Or weep. Or lament, grieve, or mourn. At first I just thought it was because these guys were rather feminine. I still think I’m mostly right about that. In any case, it’s a matter of scientific record that girls cry a lot more than boys.
But there’s something else going on. These tears are most often shed in the service of a national, political narrative of systemic injustice and racial and sexual oppression which is filled with half-truths and outright lies as it interprets the events of the day through the lens of Critical Theory and its host of iterations. By virtue of their position as leaders they’re (ostensibly) helping us understand the events of the day from God’s perspective. But the sad reality is, the perspective is severely lacking in truth, and any sort of rational analysis quickly demonstrates this.
But it’s also true that where truth is lacking, tears may suffice. And since truth is severely lacking in the Critical Theorist’s perspective, these Christian leaders wittingly or not use their grief-induced tears to slip it past our minds directly into our souls.
Notice how rarely they encourage us to think deeply, to study diligently, to reason clearly. Rather than directing us to engage our minds with the timeless, well-reasoned cultural observations of Machen, Chesterton, Lewis, Schaeffer, or even Neil Postman for that matter, we’re encouraged instead to imbibe the emotionally rich, intellectually vacuous idiocy of White Fragility, How to be Anti-Racist, Woke Church, Rediscipling the White Church, White Awake, and other such drivel. Don’t think, feel. Don’t talk, listen. Don’t ask questions, believe. Embrace the stories; shed the tears.
Don’t Make Me Cry
“Weep with those who weep” is the new “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Because plenty of people are weeping, if you’re not, you’re part of the problem that is causing all the weeping. And when that dawns on your thick skull, you’ll finally be able to cry.
The enemy of our souls doesn’t play fair, and will attack them however he can. And because tears spring from and reach into the depths of our soul, expect him to use tears against us. Tears, being such soulish expressions, ought to be treated as sacred by those who shed and those who observe them alike. But this is not a perfect world, and corrupt hearts may produce corrupt tears or manipulate the tears of others.
Furthermore, if our perspective of reality is wrong (and by “wrong” I simply mean not the same as God’s), we just may get the time to weep and the time to rejoice exactly opposite, and that’s terribly tragic:
The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud… And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,Revelation 18:15-19
“What city was like the great city?”
And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out,
“Alas, alas, for the great city
where all who had ships at sea
grew rich by her wealth!
For in a single hour she has been laid waste.”
The losses were staggering. The pain was real. The suffering was intense. The tears so hot they sizzled when they hit the sidewalk. Heaven’s response?
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”
Sometimes heaven itself sings in the face of mourners. Now keep in mind I’m not equating woke Christians with the merchants of Babylon.
But I am very much suggesting that we are living in an age in which we ought to be skeptical toward the streaked cheeks of our evangelical leaders. We dare not join in their cries of lament without carefully considering whether or not they’ve been able to accurately identify the true tragedies of our day. I don’t think they have, and for that reason I believe their tears and laments are insanely dangerous.
Tears are a precious gift of God – a visible, tangible, sacred expression of our soul. Beware of those who misuse theirs to mislead you. Guard your tears against any attempt to draw them out and employ them in the service of the same narrative they are serving.
Don’t make me cry.