Posted by: duncandrews | August 26, 2012

My eyes a fountain of tears: a theology of weeping (vi)

Paul’s example: living as joyful weepers

It is in the apostle Paul’s life that we see these themes—gospel weeping and gospel hope—coming together. Paul’s ministry was marked by tears. Acts 20 mentions his tears three times as he addresses the Ephesian elders (20:19, 31, 37). Paul writes to the Corinthians with tears to communicate his love (2 Cor. 2:4). In Phil. 3:18 Paul weeps at the state of rebellious humanity, remembering that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

However, Paul’s was also a ministry of profound joy. Throughout Romans, he either exhorts to rejoice or tells of his own joy at least ten times.[1] Philippians 4 is well-known: following Paul’s claim that he weeps remembering that people live as enemies of Christ (3:18), he exhorts his readers to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ (4:4).

Paul knew the world’s brokenness, and he knew the certainty and tragedy of the coming judgment that so many would be swept up in; and he wept. He knew Jesus’ warning of tears for sin now or tears of terror at God’s wrath later. For Paul, our eschatological situation—the ‘last days’—is rightly the time for tears.

Nevertheless, Paul also knew of a future day when there would be no more tears, a future day which broke into this present day of tears. Isaiah had prophesied it: God would wipe away the tears from every face and destroy death forever (25:6-8). And as Paul reflected on Jesus’ death and resurrection, he saw that destruction of death accomplished—‘where O death is your victory?’ (1 Cor. 15:55)—and promised to Jesus’ people—‘thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (1 Cor. 15:57).

For Paul we rightly weep when faced with the world in its bondage to decay and sin, bound for judgment, or with the reality of our own persistent sin; but we also rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2). We rejoice because we know that when we weep, God weeps too; not as one crushed by his tears but as God, the transcendent, self-sufficient, almighty creator who is love; and therefore, as one motivated by his and our tears to do whatever it would take to wipe away every tear and make all things new (Rev. 21:3-5).


[1] 5:2, 3, 11; 12:12, 15; 14:17; 15:10, 13, 32; 16:19.

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