“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8
Many years ago, I read a story in Guideposts magazine I never forgot.
It was about a missionary whose father had died. The missionary later went to Africa and at one point was in a Jeep with an older African gentleman.
They traveled to a village, where the missionary saw and heard three young men crying loudly about their father’s death.
Sometime after that, the older African man was in the Jeep again when he asked the missionary about what they’d seen.
The missionary admitted he was taken aback.
That’s when the older man gave some incredible advice:
“It is good to cry at the deaths of our fathers, because the tears wash the pain out of our hearts.”
I’ve told that story to more than one man faced with grief, because too often in our society men seem to think they must be stoic when someone dies.
Picture one of the toughest guys from TV shows or movies.
Do you picture him crying?
And yet, one of the toughest guys — if not the toughest, real-life guy — did cry.
His name is Jesus.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “Are you talking about the same Jesus who blessed children and reached out to beggars? I’m more likely to picture him carrying a lamb in a flock of sheep than being a tough guy.”
But I’d contend that anyone who defied the natural tendency of self-protection and willingly gave his life, who endured the horrible, disfiguring beating, plus the whipping, and then carried his cross, was remarkably tough.
Add to that the fact that he was nailed to that cross — one of the most torturous means of death — and hung before a crowd of mockers without cursing back and you have someone of incredible strength.
And yet Jesus, who was fully God and fully man, cried.
Don’t believe me?
Turn to the 11th chapter of the book of John in the Bible.
The account begins with a man named Lazarus. He lives in a town called Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha.
At this point, Lazarus is sick and his sisters send for Jesus.
“This sickness will not end in death,” Jesus tells his disciples. “No, it is for God’s glory so God’s Son may be glorified through it.”
So you’d think Jesus, who’d healed other people, would hurry to help Lazarus.
Then the Bible says something interesting.
“Now, Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
After that, Jesus tells his disciples that they’re going to where Lazarus is.
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him,” Jesus says.
The disciples, who have no clue what lies ahead, figure Lazarus could use a little rest.
“Lord, if he has fallen asleep he will recover,” they say.
Jesus sets the record straight.
“Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him,” Jesus says.
When Martha hears Jesus is coming, she goes out to meet him.
She tells Jesus that if he’d been there, her brother wouldn’t have died.
“But even now, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you,” she says.
Jesus tells Martha that Lazarus will rise again, but she thinks he means on Resurrection Day.
Then Jesus says something that’s brought comfort and peace to Christians for generations.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Martha will get Mary.
And when Jesus sees Mary and all the other mourners with her weeping, he is deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.
The Fire Bible* says the Greek word used for “deeply moved” — embrimaomai — gives a picture of deep grief, involving sympathy and anger.
It says Jesus was grieved and angered by the misery that resulted from sin (not specifically Lazarus’ sin, but humanity’s) and the consequence of death.
Jesus asks where Lazarus has been laid to rest.
“Come and see,” the others say.
And that’s when it happens.
Don’t overlook what’s been recorded as the shortest verse in the King James and many other versions of the Bible.
In John 11:35, we see the picture of someone with deep feeling and sympathy, crying real tears.
Why was Jesus crying?
Didn’t Christ say before he made a road trip with his disciples that he was going to “awaken Lazarus”?
Surely, if Jesus knew what was coming next, he’d be happy, right?
Yet he cries anyway.
When Jesus comes to the tomb, he tells those around him to take away the stone.
Christ lifts his eyes to heaven. He thanks our Heavenly Father for hearing him.
“I know you always hear me,” Jesus prays, “But I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe you sent me.”
Then in a loud voice, Jesus says: Lazarus come out.”
Guess what happens?
Lazarus — who’s been dead four days — walks out of the tomb.
Many people will believe in Jesus because of what happened with Lazarus—to the point that religious leaders not only want to kill Christ, but Lazarus, too. (John 12:10-11).
Jesus was right.
God would be glorified and people would come to believe because of all this.
And even after knowing all that, our compassionate Lord still cried — showing he is well-acquainted with deep pain and grief.
So if the toughest man who ever lived shed tears, don’t you think it’s OK for us to do the same?
I remember sobbing in church after my husband Chuck died.
“God keeps all your tears in a bottle,” said a dear friend.
“He’s going to need a vat!” I blurted out in a grief-stricken blur.
I’d already cried so many tears and figured so many more were coming I couldn’t imagine anything other than a big tank holding them all.
Yet I came to realize something:
If you’ve got a lot of pain, you need a lot of tears.
You need rivers of the wet stuff to keep washing out all of that agony.
Now, I don’t know the name of that African man, but I think he was really wise. I think he changed that missionary’s perspective and he certainly provided me with insight that’s helped me for years.
Best of all, he reminds me of our tough, but tender-hearted Savior and of a time when God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of his children, “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4)
*Fire Bible, ESV, copyright 2001 Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.