Enter your e-mail address to receive my newsletter and series update notices. For more info and a sample newsletter, click here.

Note: If you get an error message when you try to subscribe, let me know. I will not use your e-mail for any other purpose. You can unsubscribe at any time using the button below.
        Subscribe         Unsubscribe


The High Calling

Laity Lodge

Featured Book

Website for
Linda Roberts

St. Mark
Presbyterian Church,
Boerne, TX

Resources for Leaders



Visitors so far:

Guest Bloggers

Irvine Presbyterian Church

Grief; Grieving; Grief and Faith; Grief and Hope; Grieving and Christian Life

God Will Wipe Away Our Tears:
Grief and the Christian Life

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2009 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.

God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Implications

Part 1 of series: God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Grief and the Christian Life
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

Yesterday I put up some highlights of Scotty Smith’s recent contribution to a Laity Lodge retreat. I mentioned that one of the things he said that struck me was this: “God’s first action in the new creation is to wipe away tears.” As I explained yesterday, I have known Revelation 21:4, the source of Scotty’s insight, for over 40 years. If you had asked me, I could have told you that the first thing God does in the new creation is to wipe away tears. But I had never really given this fact any serious thought until Scotty brought it up. (Photo: Along with Scotty, we were pleased to welcome as musicians Brian Moss and Lisa Pierre. Lisa is singing in the Great Hall.)

Let me share with you some of the implications of God’s wiping away tears as the first act of the new creation. These reflections build upon what Scotty shared with us at Laity Lodge. Perhaps the best way to present my thoughts is by asking and then answering 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?

1. What does the fact that God will wipe away our tears reveal about life?

Simply put, it reveals that this life includes tears, many, in fact. When the new creation comes, there will be tears that need to be wiped away. There will be sadness that lingers. Another line from Revelation 21:3 promises that “mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” By implication, this life is full of mourning and crying and pain.

What I’m saying here might seem so obvious that it doesn’t need to be mentioned. Of course life in this world is marked by tears. Of course there is suffering and pain. Of course. Yet many religions and philosophies deny the reality of suffering. Even Christians, who should be the first to acknowledge the tears of this life, can get so wrapped up in the genuine joy of knowing God that they minimize or deny the truth of suffering. This is a giant theological mistake.

Now, of course this life includes more than just tears. The residual goodness of God’s creation remains, filling our lives with earthly joys as well as sorrows. Moreover, the presence of God in our lives offers peace and comfort today, as well as hope for the future. Our experience in this world is clearly a mixed bag of tears and laughter. As we read in Ecclesiastes: “[There is] time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (3:4).

Christians understand the tear-stained reality of this life to be other than God how God intended it. We believe that the perfection of creation was marred by human sin, leading to suffering, pain, and buckets of tears. We also believe that because of what God has done in Christ, there will be a time when God will wipe away our tears and then they shall be no more. But, in the meanwhile, we unashamedly recognize the fact of human suffering and the accompanying tears.

In tomorrow’s post I’ll suggest how we might live in this meanwhile, how we might respond to the reality of suffering and tears in our world.

God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Implications (Section2)

Part 2 of series: God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Grief and the Christian Life
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

In yesterday’s post I began cogitating on the implications of the fact that, as the first act in the new creation, God will wipe away our tears. I suggested that this action of God reminds us of the pain and brokenness of this life. Today I’ll address the second of my three basic 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?

2. What does the fact that God will wipe away our tears reveal about how we’re to live in the meanwhile?

According to Revelation 21:4, one day God will “wipe every tear” from our eyes. Then, “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” What a great day that will be! So how should we live in the meanwhile?

a. We recognize the reality of pain and suffering.

This mostly reiterates what I said yesterday. As Christians, we recognize the reality of pain and suffering. We don’t pretend that the world is perfect. We don’t act as if we have transcended all suffering. We don’t claim to have “victory in Jesus” today that insulates us from all difficult. We don’t believe that if we just have enough faith, we can “name it and claim it” and all will be will. (When I last checked, even the “name it and claim it” faith preachers get old and die. Hmmmm.)

If we take seriously the brokenness of our world, we Christians should not be shocked when bad things happen. Tragedies are part and parcel of our fallen world, which is “groaning as in labor pains” (Romans 8:22). When terrible events occurs, when people do what’s wrong, we should not be surprised . . . . grieved, yes, shocked, no.

b. We grieve, but differently.

Yes, as people who believe that God will one day wipe away every tear, we grieve differently from those who lack this confidence.

1 Thessalonians 4 provides a salient example. In this chapter, the Apostle Paul addressed a touchy situation in the church in Thessalonica, a fellowship he had founded not long before he wrote the letter. Paul had taught his converts that Jesus would return and they would be “caught up” to meet him. But when some of these new Christians died, their fellows believed that they had missed out on the return of Jesus. They were grieving, not only because their friends had died, but also because they thought they had missed out on the life to come.

Paul wrote to reassure the Thessalonians. Those who die before Christ returns will, nevertheless, be included among those who welcome him back to earth in his second coming. Paul began his counsel with these words: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). Notice what this verse does not say. It does not say that we should “not grieve, as others do who have no hope.” Rather, it says that we should not grieve in the manner of those who have no hope. In other words, grieving is a part of this life. We share grief with all human beings. But we grieve differently because we do so with hope.

Christian hope is not wishful thinking, by the way. It isn’t believing that everything will always turn out hunky-dory in this life. Rather, Christian hope is confidence in God’s future. It’s believing that there will be a time when God will wipe away every tear, and when mourning itself will pass away. Christian hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus, the sure sign of the victory of God over sin, death, and suffering. And so we grieve, yet with faithful confidence that frames our grief.

In the past, when I’ve talked or written about grief in these terms, people have sometimes challenged what I’ve said. “Aren’t we supposed to rejoice in the Lord always?” they ask. “How, therefore, can you commend grief as part of the Christian life?” I’ll answer this question in my next post in this series.

God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Implications (Section 3)

Part 3 of series: God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Grief and the Christian Life
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

In yesterday’s post I continued reflecting on some implications of the fact that, in the new creation, God will wipe away our tears. I began to answer the question:

2. What does the fact that God will wipe away our tears reveal about how we’re to live in the meanwhile?

So far my answer contained two parts:

a. We recognize the reality of pain and suffering.
b. We grieve differently.

My claim that we grieve differently really isn’t my claim at all, as I explained yesterday. It is based on the clear teach of the Scripture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, where it says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Because of the pains of this life, we will grieve, but not in the way that others who have no hope grieve.

If you’ve been to as many funerals as I have, you’ll know exactly what Paul is talking about here. I have done funerals for people whose friends and family members are not people of faith. These services have a heaviness about them that you could almost cut with a knife. Sure, there may be some funny stories about the deceased. But, bottom line, the people gathered believe that their loved one’s life is over and that’s it.

In contrast, I have led many memorial services for people whose family and friends are faithful Christians. These services can have plenty of grief, especially when the person who died was relatively young. But they always have lots of joy as well. The joy mixed with sadness comes because of hope, the hope of life beyond this life.

Yet some Christians believe that because of this hope there is no place for grief in the authentic Christian life. It should be “joy, joy, joy” and nothing more. In the past, when I have spoken of Christians grieving, I have been asked how grief is compatible with faith and joy. “Aren’t Christians supposed to be joyful? How can you say that grieving is okay?”

In response to this question, I’m tempted to say something snarky like, “Well, because I read my Bible.” (“Snarky,” by the way, is a great word I learned from Lauren Winner at Laity Lodge. It means “obnoxious, annoying, irritating, sarcastic.”) But, in fact, this answer is actually true. There is much in Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments, that gives us permission to grieve, even as Scripture also calls us to rejoice. You can see plenty of sadness in the Psalms. Consider Psalm 6:6-7 for example:

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
         I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
         they grow weak because of all my foes.

Nothing in this passage and so many like it suggests that grief is off limits.

Turning to the New Testament, the grief of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane is striking and indisputable:

They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Mark 14:32-33).

If it was okay for Jesus to be “crushed with grief” and even to share that grief with his disciples, shouldn’t it be okay for the followers of Jesus to grieve in situations of great pain and sadness.

We see this very thing in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He models an open expression of personal pain in his second letter to the Corinthians:

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor 1:8-9).

In fact, human suffering and grief exemplifies what is happening throughout this broken cosmos:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22-23)

So, this side of the new creation, grief is normal and not to be denied or denigrated.

This leads to my next question in response to the future wiping away of tears by the Lord: How are we to live with each other as we grieve? In particular, how are we to respond to those in our lives who are grieving? I’ll pick this up in the next post of this series.

God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Implications (Section 4)

Part 4 of series: God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Grief and the Christian Life
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

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?

In answer to question #1, the fact that God will someday wipe away our tears reveals that life on this side of the new creation will contain tears. Suffering, loss, and pain will be normal for us, even as they will be mixed with pleasure, gain, and joy.

My answer to question #2 has contained two parts so far. The fact of future tear-wiping reveals that:

a. We recognize the reality of pain and suffering.
b. We grieve differently.

As Christians, we are not surprised by the tragedies and tears of this life, though we do grieve them. Yet we grieve differently because our grief is awash in hope.

Today I want to continue to address the question, “What does this reveal about how we’re to live in the meanwhile?” by focusing on how we should relate to others when they are grieving.

c. We weep with those who weep.

I grew up in a family system that didn’t have much room for tears. My mother, who was prone to cry when her emotions were stirred, even if it was by a Kodak commercial on television, was the brunt of consistent family ridicule. Even tears of joy made us uncomfortable as a family.

But tears of sadness didn’t have much place either. My mother’s mother was surely one of the dominant influences in our family system. Her emotional motto was simple: “Make somebody happy and you’ll be happy too.” I expect I heard this from her mouth probably a thousand times while growing up, literally. (That’s about once a week during my childhood, a conservative guess.) If one of my sisters, for example, was sad in my grandmother’s presence, my job was to “Cheer her up!” This meant, not empathizing or sitting quietly with her, but rather acting silly and funny in her presence. Or it meant reminding her in a scolding tone to “Count your blessings.” (Photo: my grandparents with a younger and hairier me)

For the most part, my church environment seemed to reiterate what I had learned at home. Sadness was something to be avoided. If we were with someone who was grieving, our job was to help them stop grieving. (In actuality, because we were uncomfortable with the whole experience of grief, we often left sad people alone.) There were exceptions to this “Cheer them up or ignore them” mentality in my church experience, however. Once, when my mother was crying in the presence of Lloyd Ogilvie, our Senior Pastor at church, she apologized for her tears. “Martha,” he said in his sonorous baritone, “tears are the lubrication of the Holy Spirit.” Yet, even with Pastor Ogilvie weighing in on the benefit of tears, we still didn’t stop teasing my mother for being over-lubricated by the Spirit.

As I think back on my childhood and my early church experience, I can’t quite figure out why we managed to ignore one of the clearest, simplest imperatives in the whole Bible. It comes in Romans 12, in a list of instructions for how we’re to live with each other in the body of Christ. There we read, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (12:15). The answer to the question of how we’re to relate to those who grieve couldn’t be any plainer. We’re to weep with those who weep.

This passage of Scripture, in harmony with many others, calls us to sympathize with those who are grieving. Sympathy, as you may know, comes from the Greek word sympatheia, which means “feeling with” someone. Sympathy with those who hurt is what Scripture calls us to in Romans 12:15.

Notice, however, that this verse goes beyond mere sympathy. We’ not just to feel bad with people, but also to share in their expression of pain. We’re to weep alongside those who weep. This suggests sympathy pervaded empathy, which is feeling what others are feeling. (For some odd reason, sympathy lost favor some years ago. I heard sympathy derided as superficial. Empathy, “being able to feel what others are feeling” became the summum bonum of caring relationships. I think empathy is just great. But so is genuine sympathy.)

I don’t think Romans 12:15 requires some new rule that compels us to cry with the crying. This, after all, might push us in the direction of superficial or even sham sympathy. There will be times when we actually weep with the weeping, and times when we don’t. Some people, like my mother, and like me if I must be honest, seem to shed tears more easily than others. This has to do with our emotional wiring, not our biblical literalism.

So, whether you actually weep with the weeping or not, you can choose to put yourself in place where such is possible. And this, I think, would be the main point of Romans 12:15. To weep with those who weep means getting close to them in their pain. It means feeling sympathy. It means opening our own hearts to the possibility of empathy, thus feeling the pain of a brother or sister. This might very well lead us to shed tears. But the tears are not the point. A deep, genuine “being with in pain” is the point.

“Is this all?” you might wonder. Are we merely to feel the pain of a sister or brother who is suffering? I’ll answer this question in my next post.

God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Implications (Section 5)

Part 5 of series: God Will Wipe Away Our Tears: Grief and the Christian Life
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

In my last post, I continued to answer the question,

2. What does this [the fact that God will wipe away our tears in the new creation] reveal about how we’re to live in the meanwhile?

I showed that, not only are we to be people who grieve differently, but also we are to share in the grief of others. Simply stated, we’re to “weep with those who weep.”

But is this all? If we’re with someone who is hurting, have we completed our duty if we sit with them, sharing in their pain, and perhaps even joining them in their weeping? No, this is not all, but it is essential. What is required of us, in addition to weeping with those who weep, will only make sense if, first, we open our hearts to the hurting and share in their suffering.

Yet there is more. Returning to the passage in 1 Thessalonians that we examined a few posts ago, we see that Paul urges the Thessalonians Christians to grieve, but “not . . . as others do who have no hope” (4:13). He does on to address the specific reason for Thessalonians sadness, the recent deaths of some fellow believers and the mistaken view that these people would miss out on the return of Christ. In fact, Paul explains, they’ll end up meeting Jesus before those who are living at the time of his Parousia. As a result of this vision of the future, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (4:18). The active imperative in the Greek original of this verse could even be rendered, “Therefore, keep on encouraging one another with these words.”

So my grandmother wasn’t completely off base in her conviction that we’re to cheer up the person who is weeping. She overlooked the sympathetic “co-weeping” that Paul commends in Romans 12:15, and this was both a theological and a relational mistake. But she was right to suppose that we do have an opportunity and a responsibility to help those who are hurting to be consoled or encouraged. (Note: the Greek verb translated in 4:18 as “encourage” can also mean “console.”)

And how do we encourage or console those who are grieving? We do so “with these words.” In the specific situation of the Thessalonians, this meant sharing with each other the fact that those who had died in Christ would not be left out when he returned. More broadly, the example of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4 suggests that we are to encourage each other by the good news of the Gospel and its implications.

This kind of encouragement is rooted in the truth, not in denial or “happy-talk.” For example, if somebody you know has life-threatening cancer, true encouragement isn’t saying the sort of thing you often hear said in such circumstances: “Oh, I’m sure it will all turn out fine.” “The doctors will be able to get every bit of that cancer.” “I know you’ll be 100% in no time.” Such wishful thinking is well-intended, but its capacity to encourage is severely limited. Truth-based encouragement, however, points to the facts: “God is with you in this time of suffering, and so am I.” “Your life is in God’s hands, and he will never let you go.” “God is the healer and you can trust him to do what’s best.” As a pastor, there have been times when I’ve said to somebody, “Yes, it’s possible that your life in this age won’t be as long as you had hoped, but your eternal life is in the Lord. What lies ahead for you – and for all of us – is wonderful beyond what we can imagine. But, for now, I’ll be praying each day for your healing, as well as for you to know the presence and comfort of the Lord.”

Encouragement like this can be effective in the life of one who suffers if it is based on the truth, and if it comes in the context of genuine sympathy. When people know that you have hurt with them, then they’ll be more open to hear what you have to say to them.

When we’re with someone who is grieving, often we can do more than weep with them and encourage them with the Gospel. It’s quite likely that there are specific ways we can serve them. I think, for example, of when my father was dying of liver cancer. People in our church did plenty of co-weeping. And, upon occasion, they encouraged us with the truth. But they also saw how much we needed some tangible signs of God’s love. My family and I had decided to keep my dad at home as long as possible, preferably until he died. His last months were difficult, as he required round-the-clock nursing care. We hired someone to carry part of this load, but we did the lion’s share of the personal care, my mother, most of all. In order to help us, people at church decided to bring us dinner every night until my dad died. This open-ended commitment turned out to involve almost a hundred meals brought by a hundred different people. The meals varied from fast food picked up on the way home from work to elaborate feasts that were lovingly prepared for hours and hours. But no matter the quality or quantity, we received every meal as an act of encouragement. In the love of people in our church, we not only heard the Gospel, but also felt it. (Photo: I will never forget the roast beef dinner prepared by Lillian Downey. It was amazing. The picture is not the actual dinner, but gives you a mouthwatering idea of what Lillian did for us.)

So, in addition to weeping with those who weep, we’re also called to encourage them and, as needed, to love them in tangible ways.

In my next post in this series I’ll begin to address the third question I have asked in response to the fact of God’s tear-wiping in the new creation: What does this reveal about God?” Stay tuned. . . .