Sooner or later, all of us will walk the path of sorrow and loss.
J. I. Packer describes grief as “the inward desolation that follows the losing of something or someone we loved – a child, a relative, an actual or anticipated life partner, a pet, a job, one’s home, one’s hopes, one’s health or whatever.” The key words here, of course, are ‘love’ and ‘loss.’ Grief is the process of adapting to the loss of something or someone that we loved.
When people lose loved ones, we speak of them as being bereaved. The word ‘reaved’ means to rob, plunder, or tear away. Those who are bereaved feel that they have been robbed or plundered, like having something or someone who is dearly loved taken away. They feel like they’re being torn in two.
The Depths of Grief
All of us will walk through the valley of grief and loss in different times and in different ways. And God has given us the book of Lamentations to address the issue of grief – an entire book of the Bible that shows us how to navigate this valley. Lamentations describes, in excruciating detail, the grief and sorrow that resulted from the siege and eventual collapse of Jerusalem in 586 BC. It is called Lamentations because it is the lament of people who survived unspeakable loss, and then had to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and somehow find the strength to carry on.
Lamentations is a cry from the depths of pain, sorrow and loss. It is the lament of the survivors. And more than any other book of the Bible, it speaks to those who grieve today.
We Grieve With Tears
Tears are the shuddering of the body at the pain of the soul. Tears are a wonderful gift from God. He gave us these ducts for a reason! Tears are a release valve for pain. So let the tears flow! Don’t hold them back. Lamentations is a book soaked in tears.
She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks (Lam. 1:2).
For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me (Lam. 1:16).
My eyes are spent with weeping (Lam. 2:11).
My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of the daughter of my people (Lam. 3:48).
My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees (Lam. 3:49).
Notice that the references to tears run throughout the book. They are not just in Chapter 1 and then they dry up. The tears of grieving people come at unexpected times. You never know when they’re going to come next.
Here is what some of the people in my congregation have told me about the role of tears in their experiences with grief.
Sorrow comes in waves, often when you don’t expect it. A new wave can be set off by a sight, a sound or a smell.
People often tell me, “I don’t know what to say to you. I don’t want to make you cry.” And I say to them, “You’re not going to take me to a place that I don’t already live all the time.”
“I was in such a state of shock, I couldn’t cry for days.”
Sometimes the tears just won’t come. We see that in Lamentations, too, when the writer says grief has left him “stunned, faint all the day long” (Lam. 1:13). Sometimes the shock of a great loss freezes the senses for a time so that what you expect to feel, or even what you think you should feel, you don’t feel at all.
But Lamentations also says, “When the tears come, let them flow! Don’t hold them back! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!” (Lam. 2:18). Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord (Lam. 2:19).
With the book of Lamentations, God validates the tears of godly, faithful people.
We Grieve With Christ
What is our Lord’s response to the grief of His people? The Bible tells us that Jesus wept. When Lazarus (whom Jesus loved) died, our Lord came to Bethany. When He arrived, Martha came out to meet Him, and later her sister Mary did the same. These two women were grieving the death of their dearly-loved brother. John tells us “when Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (Jn. 11:33), and “Jesus wept” (Jn. 11:35).
Why did Jesus weep when He knew that in just five minutes He would raise Lazarus from the dead? He told Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (Jn.11:23), but He did not say to Martha, “Don’t grieve.” Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, but He weeps with Martha and Mary over their loss.
God is always intimately involved in the grief of His people. The psalmist writes, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8). Every tear you have ever shed is completely known to your heavenly Father. Not one of them is ever forgotten by Him. The tears of God’s children are precious to God. They are part of why He sent His Son into the world.
Our Lord was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow” (Mat. 26:38). When your soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, your Savior has been there. You have a Savior who knows what it is to weep!
One Day, We Will Grieve No More
One day Christ will wipe away all tears from your eyes. Literally, the Bible says He will wipe all tears “out of” our eyes (see Rev. 21:4), as if He would take away not only the tears, but the tear-ducts themselves (in the resurrection body), because they would no longer be needed. It is not only the tears that God will take away, but also the sorrow and loss that gave rise to them. Lord, hasten that day!
Until then, our grief is not without tears. But it is also not without Christ, the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, who says, “See if there is any sorrow like my sorrow” (Lam. 1:12) He plumbed the depths of sorrow when He suffered on the cross. And no one is more ready or more able to walk with you through the valley of grief, sorrow and loss than Jesus Christ.
This article was adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon “Tears and Talk”, from his series For All Who Grieve: Light and Hope in Lamentations.