Friday, June 8, 2012

The Land of Tears

Like most men in our culture I was not taught to be comfortable with tears.

So, for example, when I was a little boy, and fell and skinned my knee, someone was sure to pick me up and say, "Now, now, little man, don't cry!" By the time I was eight, I had figured out that if I cried in the schoolyard the whole class would laugh at me. By the time I was sixteen, whenever someone broke out in tears, everyone else stood around feeling awkward. In our culture we have made a secret place of the land of tears.

We’re not alone in this. The ancient Egyptians believed that when they died and they arrived at heaven's gates, the god Osiris would ask them two questions. The first question was, "Did you bring joy?" and the second was, "Did you find joy?" Answering yes to both was the only way into heaven. Not much room for tears in the Egyptian afterlife.

But these days even Christians tend to speak as if finding joy is the main thing in life. Health and wealth television preachers like Kenneth Copeland say awful things like "prosperity is a sign of divine reward" and "if you are not happy, then you lack the Spirit." Robert Schuller, the former pastor of California’s famous Crystal Cathedral, before it went caput, wrote a book about the Beatitudes entitled, "The Be-happy Attitudes." People sentimentalize the Christian faith. The whole sum of religion comes to be looking on the bright side of things and spiritual highs. And, in the meantime, we have made a secret place of the land of tears.

The Jews in the Old Testament, on the other hand, did know how to weep. In fact, large parts of the Old Testament are lament, songs of loss, sadness and tears: Job, much of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and the book of Lamentations. One third of the Psalms are laments too. For example, “I am weary with moaning,” says the Psalmist in Psalm 6. And, "My tears have been my food day and night," (Psalm 42:3). 

The New Testament is much the same. Jesus groans to see a deaf and mute man and weeps at his friend’s, Lazurus’ grave. Paul had unceasing anguish because few of his fellow Jews were inclined to follow Jesus. And in Romans 8, Paul describes how the whole world groans under the weight of sin, how Christians groan as they wait for renewal, and how even the Spirit of God groans in wordless intercession on our behalf. There is no special grace that exempts Christians from shedding tears.

And why shouldn’t we weep? Over one hundred Syrians, including babies with pacifiers in their mouths, were executed in Syria this month, in a single incident. There are more than 1000 endangered species in the world today—even though the story in Genesis states that God created us humans with the express command that we take care of all of life. Gruesome and senseless murders made the news this week. People we love have died. 

The thing is, in the secret land of tears Christians can be agents and advance people for divine reconciliation. When Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted," he was instructing us to be open to the wounds of the world. Look at the world through tears. You will see things through your tears that dry-eyed you could not see and you will do things that are Christ-like. And then the world will be a slightly better place.


  1. John, I sense you may be as tired of so-called happy people as I am. It would be wonderful if all the happiness we see expressed were genuine. How often do we hear this conversation used as a greeting?

    Q: How are you?
    A: Great! (or wonderful, or awesome, or excellent, or another synonym of these words)

    If the answer would be “sad” or “concerned” or anything other than some positive expression, the questioner probably would be caught off guard, and then look for a quick exit.

    Around where I live, Christians like to be happy about life and in their current circumstances. It is a sign you are living your life right. However, as life goes on, this happiness cannot be sustained. So we all have moments of sorrow that we keep to ourselves or only share with family members. I have to say that I like to be around positive people who seem happy. Conversely, I don’t like to be around sad people and let their sadness drag me down. So, perhaps I am addicted to happiness.

    I guess I would rather be addicted to honest people. I sense that you are an honest man.

    By the way, just read your book, and I have to say that it expressed quite succinctly the way that I feel about my faith. Now I will continue to read your blog. Thanks.

    Jim Geertsma
    Holland, MI

  2. Excellent. Water- in this case, tears- softens things.


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