On Death – and Tears

Lotta tears and death of late:

When you are young you likely do not think very much about death and dying. But when you get older you not only think about it much more, but you experience it: among your friends, family members, and even yourself. You hardly ever find yourself going to weddings anymore, but you sure do go to a lot of funerals.


With my own wife passing five months ago, and various other friends either losing loved ones or on the path of death themselves, it is hard not to think about death almost daily. Just yesterday I wrote about one friend who has a very short time left to live. Please keep Shirley and her husband in your prayers: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/12/01/what-is-god-really-doing-in-the-world/

And one rather youngish believer and fellow culture warrior that I know (with a wife and five young children) is also soon to depart this world. Please keep Damian and his family in your prayers. And then just moments ago I had a friend over who also had just recently lost his wife. We chatted and prayed for each other. Please keep Steve and his family in your prayers.

There have been so many Christians of course who have spoken about and written on these matters. For example, Tim Keller who recently passed away from cancer, had penned a brief book called On Death (Hodder, 2020). In it he discusses various things, including the place of grief. He says this:

On the one hand we are to grieve rather than take the stoic approach. But although grieving is right, grief can become bitterness; it can embitter you, darken your life, and stifle joy unless you season it with hope. The most remarkable example of this is Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, his friend, in John 11. Jesus did not come up to Mary and Martha, the bereaved sisters, and say, “There, there. Keep a stiff upper lip. Chin up. Be strong.” He didn’t do any of that. When Mary speaks to him, we are told, in the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He doesn’t speak—all he does is weep. And then, when he goes to Lazarus’s tomb (though all the English translations mute this), we are told that Jesus was “snorting with rage” (John 11:38).


Here is Jesus, the Son of God, who knew quite well that he was going to do a great miracle and raise his friend from the dead. We would think, would we not, that he would be walking to the tomb quietly smiling and thinking to himself, “Wait till you see what I’m going to do! Everything is going to be fine!” Instead he is weeping, grieving, angry.


How could the Creator of the world be angry at something in his world? Only if death is an intruder. Death was not in God’s original design for the world and human life. Look at the first three chapters of Genesis. We were not meant to die; we were meant to last. We were meant to get more and more beautiful as time goes on, not more and more enfeebled. We were meant to get stronger, not to weaken and die. Paul explains elsewhere, in Romans 8:18-23, that when we turned from God to be our own Lords and Saviors, everything broke. Our bodies, the natural order, our hearts, our relationships—nothing works the way it was originally designed. It is all marred, distorted, broken, and death is part of that (Genesis 3:7-19). So Jesus weeps and is angry at the monstrosity of death. It is a deep distortion of the creation he loves. (pp. 37-39)

Image of On Death (How to Find God)
On Death (How to Find God) by Keller, Timothy (Author) Amazon logo

Or as he said a few pages prior:

Everything in this life is going to be taken away from us, except one thing: God’s love, which can go into death with us and take us through it and into His arms. It’s the one thing you can’t lose. Without God’s love to embrace us, we will always feel radically insecure, and we ought to be. . . . It’s in death that God says, “If I’m not your security, then you’ve got no security, because I’m the only thing that can’t be taken away from you. I will hold you in my everlasting arms. Every other set of arms will fail you, but I will never fail you.” (pp. 26-28)


With death and suffering there are plenty of tears. Having had my fair share of tears of late, I was thinking about why they seem to keep coming, and what they are actually made up of. So I finally had to look it up. One piece said this in part:

Emotional tears. These arise from strong emotions. Empathy, compassion, physical pain, attachment pain, and moral and sentimental emotions can trigger these tears. They communicate your emotions to others. Emotional tears make you feel more vulnerable, which could improve your relationships. Crying often connects people, whether it’s out of grief, love, passion, or another strong emotion. Crying may cause others to be empathetic and compassionate toward you, softening anger or unpleasant emotion that caused the tears to flow in the first place. Emotional tears contain more stress hormones and natural painkillers than other types of tears. They serve a therapeutic role, also known as “a good cry.” Emotional crying, which tends to make you feel better, may be a part of the healing process. But experts need more research to confirm this. https://www.webmd.com/balance/why-we-cry-tearing-up

But it is the biblical data that we really need here. There are at least three biblical texts that speak about the end of tears. They are:

-He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:8)

-For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17)

-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 there is also this extremely comforting passage:

-You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8)

That is some of the best news you will ever read. All the tears and sorrow and hardships and despair will NOT have the last word. Because of Jesus taking our place at Calvary, there is hope. The resurrection of Jesus is the answer to all that troubles us. It is the grand hope.

But of course this is the hope of the one who has turned from sin and self and put his trust in Christ alone. Is that true of you?

Some closing words from the Apostle Paul:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

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One Reply to “On Death – and Tears”

  1. Mat 5:4 “Blessed [are] they that mourn! For they shall be comforted.”

    God knows we will weep and yes it is good to weep and get it out of you system but it is also good to remember Paul’s advice to rejoice in the Lord always, when you are tempted to fall into periods of despair. We can never forget: “Behold I make all things new.” We always have something to look forward to – even from Earthly loneliness.

    And thanks for pointing out “embrimaomai” BTW. I had never noticed that before. I have read that some successful people, who gain miraculous healing, would get angry with the disease and rebuke it. Very interesting – God seemed to be telling me recently to take authority over some things.

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