In memory of Forrest Brinkerhoff

This is a very sad time for all of us losing a loved one.  It’s a time of grief.  A time of sorrow.  Tears well up in the eyes and roll down the cheeks.  Allowed to flow freely they drop to the ground and more follow.

It seems a little strange but during this week I started to think about the act of crying.  Something that just overwhelms our emotions, like a death, and we just start sobbing.  It’s a natural reaction but when analytically examined it seems strange.  Why would we, as a creature of God, exhibit such a behavior?  Why does water come out of our eyes when we’re sad, grieving, extremely happy, or relieved? 

So I started to study it from a physical point of view and I found some interesting answers.  This being an exhortation I also looked at it from a Biblical perspective and found some beautiful verses.  This morning I wanted to look at both aspects.  The physical production of tears and the reasons for it are interesting but they’re also inspiring.  We see the wonderful intricacies of God’s handiwork  As with a lot of things in creation that seem so simple we soon find that they are marvelously complex.

Biblically speaking there is a wealth of information on the subject.  We can take heart in the many faithful of old who did not stifle their emotions.  They plainly wept and God heard their cry.  God is not unmindful of our tears, our sufferings, our pain and anguish.  His promises give us a beautiful hope and assurance.

The Natural

Let’s talk about the natural first.  It has been estimated that during our lifetime we produce more than 15 gallons of tears.  Of course, our tear ducts are working all the time to keep our eyes moist.  But tears also contain an anti-bacterial agent, lysozyme, to prevent harmful bacteria from infecting the eye.  They also wash away small foreign bodies, and provide oxygen and nutrients to the cornea, which has no blood supply of it’s own.  The tear film over the cornea actually consists of three layers: an inner mucous layer, an intermediate layer of salty water, and an outer, oily layer to reduce evaporation and prevent adhesion of the lid margins during sleep.  You see it’s not that simple and the doctors coming up with cures for dry eyes really have their work cut out for them.

The oily outer layer is secreted by around thirty glands located on each eyelid, just behind the roots of the lashes.  The reflex action of blinking helps spread the tear film across the cornea to ensure clear vision.  The main tear gland (about the size of a lima bean) is located at the upper and outer margin of the eye, and secrete when excess fluid is required, to remove an irritant or as a response to an emotional event.  Tears drain from the eye surface through tiny openings towards the inner end of each eyelid.  These are connected by narrow tubes to the tear sacs, located in shallow depressions in what they call the lacrimal bones, on either side of the nose.  The very action of blinking sucks excess fluid away from the eye and activates muscles which compress the sacs.  This forces the fluid in the sacs to drain through tiny ducts in the bone into the nose.

The whole system is marvelously connected together to serve the function of lubricating, cleansing and protecting the eye.  It’s a mere accessory but without it the eye would not be functional.  So again we have a quandary for the evolutionist of what developed first the tear duct or the eye?  Of course, it’s God who designed and built it.

Have you ever considered that humans are the only animals that cry?  All humans around the world cry all though some cultures are more stoic then others.  Can you think of any other animals that weep?  Sorry, crocodile tears are a myth.  There’s been stories of elephants and apes crying but science hasn’t been able to verify it.  All animals have tear duct systems but none of them cry from emotion.  It is strictly a unique human trait that God has built into us.  Why?

A biochemist named William Frey has studied the composition of tears and found that they have a high concentration of manganese.  Thirty times higher then blood serum.  The point being that manganese is a necessary mineral involved with our moods, and tears remove this concentrated mineral from our body.

He also did another test comparing irritant tears (such as formed by slicing onions) with emotional tears (after watching a sad movie).  He found that they were chemically different.  Emotional tears contain 24% more protein than irritant tears.  All tears contain 3 chemicals released by the body during stress. They are:

  1. leucine-enkephalin -- an endorphine believed to modulate pain sensation
  2. ACTH -- a hormone considered to be the body's most reliable indicator of stress and
  3. prolactin -- the hormone which regulates milk production in mammals.

Each of these proteins are pain or stress related and therefore crying is the bodies way of relieving any overload these proteins might cause.  Clearly, then, it is physically very healthy to cry, regardless of whether or not it feels awkward or embarrassing socially.  God has made us unique.  He’s created our bodies to have this release of crying.  Therefore, we should not feel ashamed of it.  It’s part of the healing process.  It’s true, isn’t it, that after a good cry we often feel better.

Interestingly enough one of the major proteins, prolactin, is found in much higher concentrations in women’s body's then in men’s.  This makes sense since prolactin is that hormone that is used in the synthesis of breast milk.  What does that say?  Well, studies verify what we know to be true that women cry four times more then men.  The reason is physiological. Men and women are made different.  Sometimes a woman just needs to cry for no apparent reason.  The reason being is that the body is releasing these excess proteins.  It’s important to realize this because tensions in a relationship can often arise when a partner is not aware of the needs or workings of the opposite sex.  Men can become frustrated because they don’t want the woman to cry.  Women, on the other hand, might be frustrated because they want a man to cry more.

In our society, men are taught that tears are a sign of weakness.  But that’s not right both physically and spiritually.  It’s healthy to cry.  Men need it too.  Spiritually it’s a necessity too as we need to share emotions.  We’ll see later that many of the faithful men of old were not afraid to publicly weep.   William Frey, the biologist who did these studies said, "It is difficult to feel very sad or hurt without crying, and we soon learn that it is easier not to cry if we do not allow ourselves to feel strongly in the first place. . . . Individuals who learn to hide their emotions from others may eventually hide them so well that they no longer know what or how they feel."  And that is a true danger for the brother or sister in Christ who as Paul says in Romans 12:15 should, “weep with those who weep.”  We need to share in the feelings of others and that is not possible if we cannot express our own emotions.

The Spiritual

It’s all right to cry.  As Ecclesiates 3:4 says, “There is ... A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”  Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13,  “I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.”   He did not mean that they were not to sorrow at all but that their type of sorrow was not to be like those without any hope.  Of course they were to cry and mourn.  It was only natural.  Many of the faithful of old shed tears in public and private --- Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Hezekiah, Peter, Paul and Jesus.

But do tears have any affect on God?  Does he pay heed to such emotions?  If they’re true tears he does.  Consider the case of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:2.  He was a man who was told to get his house in order because he was going to die.  What did he do?

(2 Ki 20:2-3 KJV)  “Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, {3} I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.”

He turned to God in a very private prayer and cried bitterly.  Here’s God’s reaction.

(2 Ki 20:4-5 KJV)  “And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, {5} Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD.”

God said to him, “I have seen thy tears” even though his face was to the wall.  Tears are such a powerful sign of our inward emotions.  God is definitely not unmindful of our tears.  Psalm 39:12 seems to fit in perfectly with this prayer of Hezekiah’s,

(Psa 39:12-13 KJV)  “Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were. {13} O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.”

Then there’s Psalm 56:8 which not only shows that God is mindful of our tears but that they are actually very precious to him.  He takes account of them.

(Psa 56:8 KJV)  “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”

The picture is of a God so caring, so moved by tears, that he collects them into his bottle.  He stores them up like a rain gauge as a measure of our sorrows.  That’s how aware and caring God is toward our feelings.  We shouldn’t stifle those kind of emotions before our God.  He wants us to open up to him.  To express our true inner self.

How do our prayers compare?  For me, it sometimes seems harder to come before God if I’m too emotionally riled up.  But we realize that prayer and crying combined together are some of the best medicine for the soul.

Do we wait until someone is dead or very sick before we cry to God?  No, of course, many other things can and should move us to tears before God.  The most striking examples in scripture are the sorrow the prophets felt over the sins of the people and what was to befall them.  Do the sins of others move us to tears?  Jeremiah was such a prophet of deep felt emotions which poured out in rivers of tears.  See what he says in Jeremiah 9:1,

(Jer 9:1 KJV)  “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!”

(Jer 13:17 KJV)  “But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive.”

Paul had a very similar spirit which labored and sorrowed for the state of the ecclesia.

(Acts 20:31 KJV)  “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”

(2 Cor 2:4 KJV)  "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you."

(Phil 3:18 KJV)  "(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:"

Jeremiah and Paul felt an urgency about the things of God that drove them to very deep emotions.  You have to be involved to feel this way.  They were not stoic.  They cared enough to weep for the people and to warn them.  How involved are we?  Does the sin of others drive us to tears?  Do we mourn over our own inability's, weaknesses and failures before God?  Are we tied so close to our family in God that when troubles arise we are emotionally involved?  From these examples it seems to be a needful expression of our emotions.

The greatest example is of course our Lord Jesus Christ.  The scriptures record for us three times that the Lord shed tears.  The first one (in the pattern of Jeremiah) is found in Luke 19:41,  "And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it."  This was because he knew the suffering and the devastation that was going to come upon Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans.

Then there’s that famous verse in John 11:35, “Jesus wept”.  The context is the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  My take on the situation is that Jesus was not crying because Lazarus had died but rather he was saddened by the lack of unbelief among the surrounding Jews that he could raise Lazarus from the dead.  As the prophets of old Jesus was driven to tears by the unbelief of the people.

The third time scriptures record the tears of Jesus is in Hebrews 5:7,

(Heb 5:7 KJV)  "Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;"

Here is a different matter.  Death was before Jesus.  As death is before us all.  His emotions stirred him just like it would do with any of us.  He made supplication before God with “strong crying and tears”.  The prayer was that he might be saved from death and he was heard.  But wait a minute.  He did die.  He was delivered up to sinful men who crucified him.  Therefore, his prayers full of tears, was more for a deliverance from death, that is, resurrection.  A saving from out of death.  That’s our prayer too isn’t it?

That is our hope. The coming day when there will be no more tears.  There’s nothing more moving then seeing tears welling up in the eyes of a loved one and rolling down their check.  And there’s nothing more touching as reaching out and wiping those tears away.  That’s the picture of the kingdom age as Isaiah and Revelation so beautifully put it.

(Rev 21:4 KJV)  "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."

No bottles here to catch tears.  All the trials and temptations of this life will then seem so insignificant.  It’s hard to imagine sometimes ... a life without tears.  But it’s as sure as all of God’s promises.  No more death, neither sorrow, nor crying and no more pain.


I hope all this talk about crying hasn’t bored you to tears.  We’ve found another marvelous creation of God in the tear system of our bodies.  Physically it good to cry to relieve stresses and anxieties.  We also have such great examples in the Bible of men not afraid to cry but to express their emotions.  God is not unmindful of our feelings and has promised us a day with no tears.

(Psa 126 KJV)  "A Song of degrees. When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. {2} Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, The LORD hath done great things for them. {3} The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. {4} Turn again our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the south. {5} They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. {6} He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."