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February 3, 2010 / beidson

The Terror of Tears: Weeping and Wailing as Horror and Hope

The sound of someone crying is unmistakable.  Even the faintest sound of sobbing does something to arrest our attention.  Crying is universally captivating.

The other night my daughter and I were listening to music in our living room and the voice we heard began to tremor as the artist recounted the loss of a close friend.  I looked over at my daughter and her face was distressed.  She looked like she was viewing the wreckage of an awful accident.  And really, wreckage is exactly what she was seeing.

Tears reveal something tragic about our world, that joy has been interrupted by terrible loss.  In our better moments, we forget what it is like to weep in agony, to put our face in our hands and lay on our bed and wish that we were dead.  We have all experienced grief, and nothing betrays our rock-star autonomy like salty tears rolling down our cheeks.  When we cry, we know we are not right.

There are good reasons to cry.  Scripture says we should mourn and cry.  But it also says that in the New City, Jesus will touch our face and put a plug in our tear ducts.  He will wipe away every tear and put an end to grief and suffering.

There are also bad reasons for crying.  For instance, hell is described as a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  When God’s people are subdued into slavery, they leave their homeland crying, wailing in sorrow and fear.  Women cried out in horror as their children were killed.  The nation wept as its great buildings became rubble before them.

There is a bit of the future in our tears as well.  Crying isn’t merely consequential; it is prophetic as well.  We cry over what has been lost, yes.  But it may be that we cry because we do not see how things can be good for us in the future.  This sort of crying is not mourning, really; it is more like the woman in the closet in a horror movie, quietly wimpering because she fears for her life.  This sort of crying is hopeless, and it exposes our unbelief.

But there is too a sort of crying which anticipates deliverance–a joy expressed through tears of relief.  We cry out to God, not because we do not believe him, but precisely because we believe him–we trust him and hope in him.  Our tears tell a tale, for sure, and we would do well to listen to them when they fall.

I think my daughter understood that the artist had lost something.  That’s what was so disturbing.  He cried because he had been cut off from something in his past; I think she was horrified because she feared the future.  She understood that something was not right.  But our tears are not all bad.  Jesus wept.  Our tears should give us an occasion to reflect on the wreckage of sin, and the ensuing terror it causes among a lost and frantic humanity.  But we cry with Jesus, who cried out to his Father, and committed his spirit to him.  We wait for his return–we anticipate the touch of his almighty hand.  He has promised to turn our mourning into laughter.  So let every tear be a reason to weep over sin, but to welcome the future as well.

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