For centuries, Christians have called this world a “valley of tears.”
Yes, Christ has come. Yes, he is risen. And yes, he will come again. But still we mourn and ache and weep — and walk alongside those who mourn and ache and weep. We plod through the valley with hearts heavy laden, grieving for any one of a thousand reasons: our depressed children, our distant spouses, our dashed hopes, our deceased loved ones, our ruinous sin.
“The God of all comfort keeps watch over your weeping.”
Sometimes, we cry because life’s sorrows have become chronic, filling our life like unwelcome houseguests who just won’t leave. Other times, we cry because some unexpected misery lands like a meteor and carves a crater in our soul. And still other times, we cry and don’t know quite why; the grief evades description and analysis.
To such mourners, the Bible’s message is not to dry up your tears. No, the Bible says weeping is typical of life in the valley, and its message to mourners is much more sympathetic — and much more steadying.
“I See Them”
Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s notice (Matthew 10:29), and neither does one of your tears.
When Hagar lifted up her voice in the wilderness of Beersheba, God drew near (Genesis 21:17). When Hannah wept bitterly outside the temple of the Lord, God noticed and remembered (1 Samuel 1:10, 17). When David became weary with moaning, God didn’t become weary with listening (Psalm 6:6–9).
The God of all comfort keeps watch over your weeping. He gathers up all your tears and puts them in his bottle (Psalm 56:8). Like a mother sitting beside her child’s sickbed, God marks every sigh of discomfort and pain. No matter how much of your anguish has gone unnoticed by others, not one moment has escaped the attention of the God who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).
As God says to King Hezekiah, so he could say to each of his children, “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears” (2 Kings 20:5).
“I Care About Them”
Many of us feel ashamed of our tears, especially if others see them. In a culture that prizes strength and grows uncomfortable with prolonged grieving, many of us respond to our own tears with a hasty wipe of the sleeve and a quick “Get over it.”
Not so with God, whose fatherly compassion compels him to draw near to the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). The God who said, “Blessed are you who weep now” (Luke 6:21) will not reproach you for the tears you shed as you walk through the ruins of our broken world.
“God will not reproach you for the tears you shed as you walk through the ruins of our broken world.”
When Jesus joined a crowd outside the town of Nain and watched a widow weep over her son’s body, “he had compassion on her” (Luke 7:13). Later, when Mary fell apart at Jesus’s feet over the death of her brother, the man of sorrows went one step further: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus had compassion, and Jesus wept — even though Jesus was about to speak the word to snatch them both back from death (Luke 7:14; John 11:43).
Just because Jesus loves us and knows how to fix our problems doesn’t mean he takes a shortcut through our grief. The same one who raises the dead first stops to linger with us in our sorrow — to climb down into our valley of tears and walk alongside us.
To be sure, not all tears awaken our Lord’s compassion. God has little patience when we weep in misery over the idols he removes from us, as when Israel preferred Egypt’s meat to God’s presence (Numbers 11:4–10). But every tear you shed in faith — shattered but trusting, gutted but believing — has this banner hanging over it: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18).
“I Will Turn Them into Shouts of Joy”
A few hours before Jesus was betrayed, tried, beaten, and crucified, he told his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20). Sorrow and sighing will flee. Tears will dry up. Grief will lose its grip. So it was for Jesus’s disciples, when a resurrection sunrise scattered the shadows from their hearts. And so it is for every child of God.
Every tear you shed is preparing for you “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Every drop of agony and heartache sinks down into the ground like a seed, waiting to sprout up into an oak of laughter.
“The same one who raises the dead stops to linger with us in our sorrow, to climb down into our valley of tears.”
Maybe that sounds impossible. Maybe you wonder, “How could this sorrow, this heartache, this grief ever give way to joy?” That’s alright if you can’t understand the how right now. God’s ways are often too high and too marvelous for us to grasp. But can you believe — in hope against hope — that what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27; Romans 4:18)?
Believing that God will turn our tears into shouts of joy does not mean that we no longer grieve. But it does mean that we cling to him through the pain, and let every calamity crash us into his arms. And that we learn to lament to God instead of curse his name.
We’ll keep reading our Bibles, even when we feel dead to God’s word. We’ll keep on crying out to God, even when he feels deaf to us. We’ll keep on gathering with God’s people, even when they don’t understand what we’re going through. We’ll keep on serving others, even while we carry our sorrow wherever we go. And we’ll keep on sowing the seeds of truth and grace into our barren souls, waiting for the day when God takes us home.
“I Will Wipe Them All Away”
As Andrew Peterson sings in “After the Last Tear Falls,”
In the end, . . .
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms of the Giver of love and the Lover of all.
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales.
Our weeping may tarry for a long, long night. As long as we journey through this valley, we will be vulnerable to the assaults of loss and disappointment and death. But joy will come in the morning, when God turns this valley of tears into a city of everlasting joy.
“God will turn this valley of tears into a city of everlasting joy.”
In that day, God himself will stoop down to each of his grieving children and — somehow, someway — he will dry up tears forever. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
And then your cracked and weary voice will swell to a shout as you testify with heaven’s multitudes, “You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 116:8–9).
And in a moment, tears will become the stuff of old tales.