“Grow up!” “Man up!” How often do we not hear these phrases in the world in which we live? To a certain extent, our society scorns showing emotion. Crying is seen as a sign of weakness and immaturity, in particular on the part of men. Doing so somehow seems to make us lesser people, not only in the eyes of others, but oftentimes also in our own eyes. However, I don’t think this is appropriate; I believe sorrow, even to the point of crying, is a fundamental part of the life of a true Christian, whether male or female. This is true not only in situations of pain and loss, but also when we realize how deep our sin and the consequences of it are, and see what an incredible sacrifice it was for Christ to die for those sins.
There are many biblical instances mentioning crying and tears. Ecclesiastes 3, the well-known passage speaking of everything having a time and place, says there is a time to weep ad mourn in verse 4. Certainly, this should come as no surprise to us. Jesus himself wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35). Anyone who has experienced the death of a family member or other loved one can attest to the fact that loss hurts. We are finite creatures who focus on the bonds that tie us together while members of God’s church on this earth. The severing of those earthly bonds is difficult for us to bear. This is not in any way a bad thing; in fact, sorrowing over the loss of a loved one is perfectly legitimate, even commendable in that it is a sign of the magnitude of the love that one had for a person. Just as Christ wept for Lazarus, so we can weep for our loved ones who have died.
However, this is not to say that tragedy and loss are the only occasions for believers to weep. We would be remiss not to mention sorrow for sin and its consequences. This applies to ourselves for the sins we commit, both secret and public, as well as on a larger scale for the sins of society and humanity in general. For example, John records in Revelation 5 his vision of the book with the seven seals. Upon realizing that “no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon” (v. 4), John was reduced to tears. He grieved because the sinfulness of humanity was so great that no man was worthy enough even to look at the book, much less to open the seven seals and read it.
We also sorrow at the instances of sin in our own lives. This idea is often highlighted in the Psalms. In Psalm 137, the author speaks of the people of Judah weeping along the banks of the rivers of Babylon when calling to remembrance the glories of Jerusalem prior to the captivity. How far the people of God had descended into sin! They wept as they realized all they had lost as a consequence of their having forsaken God.
Yet another powerful example of grief, this time over the sins of others who do not heed to God’s law, lies in Psalm 119:136, where we read, “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law.” What powerful language that is! Rivers! To think that the Psalmist had the courage to admit to this! Rivers of waters ought to run down our faces as well when we see the direction in which those who keep not God’s law are headed today.
Taking a step back a moment, it is worth noting that I am not saying that mourning is just an outward show. Joel 2:12–13 states, “Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.” Our calling is not only to outward signs of sorrow, but ultimately, to rend our own hearts in the agony of our sinfulness, and turn to God for our help in times of sorrow over loss. God hears his children when they call, and he sees when they are consumed with grief. We read in Psalm 56:8, “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”
All of our sorrow is known to God, and we can take comfort during life (what the Heidelberg Catechism in fact calls “this valley of tears” in Lord’s Day 9) knowing that there is a day coming in which God will wipe away all our tears; the former things will have passed away (Rev. 21:4). This means that there will no longer be sin and the sorrow over sins, or death and the pain of loss. As one of the elders pointed out to John to comfort him in Revelation 5:5a, “Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed.” What a knowledge! Christ has gained victory over sin and death! It is enough to bring joyful “rivers of waters” to our eyes, is it not?
Living a spiritual life of maturity involves many things. Sorrow of heart is one aspect that is often overlooked today. As totally depraved beings, we ought to be rending our hearts far more frequently than we do, and this will often involve tears being shed, whether over loss, sorrow for sin, or our realization of what a sacrifice it was to obtain our salvation. We need not feel shame for shedding those tears in front of others. The next time we are tempted to question a person’s emotional maturity on the basis of his or her tears, we ought to stop ourselves. That person may well be far more emotionally mature than we may have initially thought.