Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tears for Good Reasons…At Least For Now

A great diversity of land animals can secrete tears which lubricate the surface of their eyes against the dehydrating action of dry air around them.  Tears also contain antibacterial agents that can prevent eye infections by destroying at least 90 percent of bacteria on the surface of the eye within 10 minutes. However, it is generally believed that only humans can produce emotional tears.  The shedding of tears, either in response to sadness and grief or from sheer joy and elation, is unique to humankind.  

In his article, “The Miracle of Tears,” Dr. Jerry Bergman explains two important functions of emotional tears.  First, weeping and shedding of tears cause an emotional release that improves the physical and physiological state of the person afterwards.  This greater sense of well being after weeping is associated with the excretory function of the tear glands, or lacrimals.  Emotional tears contain a higher concentration of toxic excretory products that have built up in the body fluids during the period of emotional stress than reflex tears, tears produced in response to eye irritants.  Studies have shown that emotional tears compared to reflex tears contain up to 30 times more manganese, and higher concentrations of other compounds related to mood and temper.

Tears not only serve to wash away irritants and stress-related chemicals.  They also serve to communicate a heart-felt empathy, love, and concern to others who see our tears.   Likewise, one who weeps can more readily solicit the empathy of those who observe this outward expression of the inner emotions.

Evolutionary biologists used to assign tear glands to the list of vestigial organs, the useless anatomical structures left over from the time when they had survival value.  Now that we know more about the chemical, physiological, and psychological importance of tears in humans, we ought to conclude that they are much more than the result of random mutations and natural selection. Indeed, those of us who believe in a purposeful God as revealed in Scripture believe that He created Adam, the first human being, as a living person in His own image (Genesis 1:  26-27).   Even in our fallen state, we as image bearers have personality traits such as rationality and emotions that reflect our Creator.  As emotional beings, we can readily identify with our Creator Whose emotional dimension is revealed in Scripture.

The inspired revelation of the “Easter Story” in the Bible reveals how the great heart of God in the incarnate Christ was emotionally touched by events He encountered.  For instance, only a few days before Palm Sunday, the Apostle John explains how Jesus arrived too late at the home of His dear friends, Mary and Martha, to heal their brother Lazarus before he died.  John 11: 35 records Jesus’ response when He observed the grief of the sisters and their friends.  We read simply that “Jesus wept.” 

The English translation of the verb, wept, is “to cry silently.” Jesus Who, according to Hebrews 1: 3, is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature, responded with tears as He identified with the tears and distress of Mary, Martha, and others.  Verse 36 reveals that, upon seeing how Jesus wept, the Jews responded, “Behold how he loved him!”

I love this wonderful account because it reveals the great empathy of God toward mankind, mired in the consequences of sin and the curse.  He shows the same empathy toward me when I am grieved and frustrated by my own shortcomings and sin.  Mary and Martha had faith in Jesus up to a point, but doubted that Jesus was still in control.  How many times do we view our circumstances through silent tears, needing only to remember that our Savior knows intimately and exactly how we feel?  King David, reveals his intimate understanding of God’s compassion and nearness toward us in Psalm 103: 13-14:

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust

I take great comfort in knowing that, as God’s child by faith in His Son, He is my loving Heavenly Father.  Indeed, God reveals Himself as our “Abba! Father!” (“Daddy”) in Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6.  God my Father welcomes me when I need His presence, comfort, or wisdom.

Jesus, the incarnate God, wept.
But, there is another account in the “Easter Story” in which Jesus Christ wept.  Luke 19:41 tells us that, during His Triumphal Entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding meekly on the foal of a donkey, when Jesus saw the city, He wept over it.  The Greek verb here for “wept” can be translated “to wail aloud.”  Jesus wept aloud, knowing the impending destruction of the rebellious city of His beloved people by the Romans in AD 70.  Jesus was also saddened that the Jews were seeking merely a political deliverer rather than one Who could deliver them spiritually for all eternity. 

In Jesus’ Triumphal Entry, we see the heart of God burdened for lost souls like many people all around us.  May we each share in Christ’s burden for the lost, mourning our own sin, and mourning the sin which binds our family members and friends in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4: 4).  Have I shed tears as I have earnestly prayed and sought to present Christ’s compassionate Spirit to my loved ones and friends?

Through her tears and confusion, Mary did not recognize Him.
Finally, John’s gospel gives us the account of Mary Magdalene weeping at the empty tomb of the risen Christ on the first Easter morning.  In John 20: 11-18,  we can meditate on the comforting truth that Jesus draws near at times when we wonder through tear-filled eyes where He is when we need Him.  Mary’s emotional turmoil, perplexity, distress, and tear-filled eyes prevented her from seeing Jesus standing near her, thinking instead that He was the gardener.  But, she recognized Jesus’ voice when He said, “Mary.” This was the comforting voice of her familiar Friend (v. 16).  Jesus then told her not to cling to Him (v. 17) and assured her as He does us, that He promises much more than we can imagine if by faith we look forward to His return and the establishment of His kingdom. 

Even though we often view our circumstances through tears today, in Christ’s coming kingdom on Earth, things will be very different, thanks to what He accomplished through His death, and then His resurrection in victory over sin and death on that first Easter morning.  The Apostle John, later in his life saw a glimpse of Christ’s coming kingdom, and wrote in Revelation 21: 1-4 of a time when there will be no more crying or tears:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth:
 for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away;
and there was no more sea.
And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,
coming down from God out of heaven,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying,
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men,
and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people,
and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;
and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying,
neither shall there be any more pain:
 for the former things are passed away.

In this world we have reason to weep. Like the Apostle Peter following his thrice denial of Christ, or like Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, we also shed tears at our own failings or the failings of our loved ones and friends.  And so it ought to be because Christ in us also weeps when our actions deny Him or when those we love reject Him. 

As Jesus wept over rebellious Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, so we ought to weep for those who may soon die without accepting God’s saving grace provided through His cross and His resurrection (John 3: 1-17).  While an end to crying and tears forever awaits those who have trusted Christ for forgiveness, those who refuse Him will be condemned to the place of outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13: 41-43).   For those I know who still sit on the throne of their lives which rightfully belongs to Christ, I pray that on this Easter, and Resurrection Sunday, they will surrender their lives and invite the King of Kings to take charge.  After all, tears of heart-felt repentance under conviction of sin now can give way to tears of joy; and, eventually no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying…but Eternal Life in God’s presence. 

How About You?  You may have read this article and are left with a sense of confusion, uncertainty, and even fear.  If you have never encountered the “Good News” or Gospel, let me help.   The “Good News” is summarized in an outline called “Steps to Peace with God” which explains God’s love, our predicament (sin and separation from God), what Jesus has done to address our predicament, and what you can do by faith to receive God’s righteousness (right standing with a Holy God).  If you have additional questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you.  Just post a “Comment” below or e-mail me at

Related Article:
“Recognizing Loved Ones in Heaven”


Herb Gillis said...

Hi Dr John and Abby. In my pilgrim's opinion there is reason to commend you - you are using that scientific mind that God has gifted you with in your writing. I refer to the fact that as a good scientist you base the points you make with infallible truth, i.e. a related Bible passage. Also you are aware of how useful a taxonomy of the items of Wisdom that God has given to man would be. I need to tell you about the taxonomy methodology that I have come up with using my gift of science. Also in a Christian orthodox way I am using that gift of science to do research enabling me to know God in a personal way - as surprising as that might sound to you. From the time I first became a Christian (1974 at age 43 with as much spirituality as a piece of wood)in a loving way I have put a question to God: every cause produces an affect - what affects will you, the Dear Ultimate Cause, produce in my soul if I open to you? The answer to that question (that I believe God gave me) has blessed me greatly. For an answer to the question God directed me to a passage in the Bible - the one about the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The effects that God wants to have on my soul are those fruits: love, joy, peace, and the rest as given in Ephesians if I am correct. Much to my joy I am receiving those effects in my soul - a nice surprise - approaching God by use of the scientific method pays off - after all He created it. Respectfully, Herb Gillis

Mike Naylor said...

Great tie-in with the science of tears, John. They certainly are one of the amazing (yet easily overlooked) facets of our God-given design.
Your comment on shedding tears over the lost whom we have evangelized reminded me of Paul’s comment in Romans:

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:1-5)

He clearly had a passion and anguish for the Jews who had not recognized Jesus as the Christ (1 John 5:1) even though they had all of the previous revelation that pointed forward to Him. This same sense of grief should compel our evangelistic efforts as we seek to be faithful stewards/messengers of the Gospel.

The curse causes pain and suffering that all of us have to deal with. The way in which we deal with that pain and suffering is evidence of our worldview. As Christians, we must recognize that the results of the fall (death, weeds, war, etc.) will one day be undone:

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse;... (Revelation 22:1-3)

As we anticipate the final destruction of the curse by the one who became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13) we have hope and should...
not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.  (Hebrews 10:23-25)

John Silvius said...

Thank you, Herb, for your personal response to my article on tears. I am always encouraged by your testimony of coming to faith in "The Ultimate Cause." I am especially blessed when you tell how you are resting your hope in God's Word. Thanks for reminding me of Galatians 5: 22-23 which explains how the Holy Spirit works in us to become the bearers of His fruit of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control..." Even though "in this world, we will have troubles," Jesus urges us to "be of good courage because I have overcome the world (John 16: 33)." This brings me to Mike's comment to which I will respond separately.

John said...

Thank you, Mike for developing with great Scriptural support how God's Spirit in us "compels us" to reach those who have not heard the Gospel or who have heard and are rejecting its claims. As you explain from Scripture, God's love can be expressed through our tears and grief for the lost, but His Word also encourages us by providing a context of hope within which we weep and grieve by grounding us in the hope of Christ's return.

Isn't it encouraging that God's Word of truth and His Spirit can help us navigate a healthy balance so that we can, as Paul exhorted Timothy (2 Iim. 4:5), "be sober-minded in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry..." while fixing our hope in faith that we are privileged to simply convey "the love of God [which] has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5)."
With hope and with thanks,

John said...

Thanks to my friend, Barb Higgins, for sharing this quote on tears:
“There is a sacredness in tears.
They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.
They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.
They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
By Washington Irving