Part 6 of series: God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Grief and the Christian Life
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So far in this series I have been reflecting on some implications of the fact that, in the new creation, God will wipe away our tears. I have been asking and seeking to answer three questions:
1. What does this reveal about life?
2. What does this reveal about how we’re to live in the meanwhile?
3. What does this reveal about God?
I’ve dealt with questions 1 and 2 above. Now it’s time for question 3.
3. What does this [the fact that God will wipe away our tears as his first action in the new creation] tell us about God?
To begin, the fact that God will someday wipe away our tears means that God lets the tears remain for now. Although God comforts us at times, sometimes in profound and downright miraculous ways, we live with suffering and pain. Crying is a normal part of our existence in this age, and God is allowing it to go on.
When we’re talking about the tears that come from relatively minor, temporary suffering, the reality of human tears is not terrible problematic. But when the suffering is great and long, we can ache for the new creation. Moreover, we can feel frustrated, perplexed, and angry with God for allowing people to experience so much pain. It seems sometimes like a loving God would do a whole lot more tear wiping in this age, rather than holding back so much until the age to come.
God’s willingness to allow us to suffer is even more perplexing when we meditate on the fact that he will wipe away every tear from every eye. Notice, God will wipe away each tear. He will not blow them away with a mighty wind. Or evaporate them with a roaring fire. Or obliterate them with a snap of his fingers. God will not condemn our tears. He will not rebuke with the parental favorite: “Stop you’re crying, you baby!” Rather, God will wipe away each tear. It’s hard to imagine a more tender image. Wiping away tears is an intimate gesture. It’s the sort of thing a mother does with her own children.
Moreover, if you’ve ever wiped away someone’s tears, you know that it’s impossible to do this without a measure of sympathy. The one who wipes the tears doesn’t stand far off at an emotionally safe distance. Rather, the tear wiper draws near, gently touching and comforting the one who weeps, and often feeling some of the weeper’s pain. The fact that God will wipe away our tears reminds us of God’s gracious, loving presence in our lives, even and especially in our pain.
Of course this is nothing new. The Incarnation of the Word of God demonstrates powerfully the presence of God in our lives, including our suffering. As it says in Hebrews 2:17-18:
Therefore [Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
In the Gospels we find one story in which Jesus himself wept. It comes in John 11, in the context of the death of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany, and a friend of Jesus. We read:
When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. (John 11:32-35)
The text does not tell us why Jesus wept. The phrase, “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” may well indicate anger rather than sadness. There is an extensive scholarly debate about this. This possibility, along with our cultural discomfort with tears, has given rise to the suggestion that Jesus wept over the unbelief of the people. Yet this is hard to find in the text unless one reads it into the text. It seems more likely that Jesus wept out of a sense of compassion for those who were grieving, an example of weeping with those who weep. It’s possible that Jesus was also grieving over the brokenness of this world, a fact represented by death and tears. (Photo: Giotto, ” Raising of Lazarus,” 1304-1306 AD).
Although literal tears do not show up in the telling of the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we do find a powerful example of Jesus feeling grief. Here how Mark puts it:
They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake” (Mark 14:32-35).
Jesus’ suffering was not only an aspect of his Incarnation. It was also an essential component of his redeeming work as the Servant of God. This Servant was revealed through the prophet Isaiah to be a suffering servant, one whose suffering lead to healing for others:
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed. (Isa 53:3-5)
Of course not all Christians have been comfortable with the real suffering of Jesus. The Gnostic Christians of the early church embraced the heresy of a non-suffering Savior, who only appeared to suffer. This Gnostic tendency continues to thrive in some avenues of the orthodox church. Most notably, it appears in the beloved Christmas carol, “Away in a Manger.” You’ll remember these lines from the second stanza: “The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” It’s hard to imagine any baby who, awakened by strange animal noises, does not cry, unless that baby is not quite human.
Jesus, the ultimate revelation of God, both felt pain and wept. Yes, this reflected his being fully human as well as fully God. But it also underscored the fact that God cares about our suffering, even going so far as to share in it. The God who wipes away every tear is the same God who, in Psalm 56:8, keeps a record of our tossings and puts our tears in his bottle. This God does not stand far off, watching us “from a distance,” as the pop song once proclaimed. Rather, the Triune God draws near to us, comforting us tenderly and even joining in our sorrows.
Yet the time will come when God’s triumph will be complete. In that day, God will first wipe away every tear from every face. Then, “mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21:4). With this hope we live today, grieving differently, weeping with those who weep, encouraging one another with the truth of the Gospel.