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Tears: Towards a Biblical Theology

Tears and Discipleship

Repentance precedes discipleship. Repentance involves sorrow over past transgressions. Often the church functions more as an excuse maker for past errors as it tries to place blame on a person’s past or social environment. The church in this case functions more like a psychologist than a community of faith. At the other extreme appears the tendency towards cheap grace that fails to acknowledge the reality of broken humanity and places salvation in terms of contractual obligation on the part of God rather than on relationship. Relationship involves ambiguities and growth. Both result in sorrow over the tensions and the failings of the past. Tears form an essential part of the discipleship process. Ellington writes,  “Until pain is exposed and grief expressed, there can be no move toward renewal.”[xcix] He continues, “Experiences of suffering are a crucial part of our maturation both as human beings and as covenant partners with God.”[c]

Relationship with God and other believers produces discipleship. The community of discipleship lives as more than simply recipients of grace. The community lives as ones who look together to God for relationship that actively transforms. Hall writes,

It is possible, however, to err also on the side of the principle of differentiation, and to make Christ so transcendent, so discontinuous with his “body,” that Christians come to conceive themselves as recipients of grace rather than participants in grace…It is the danger precisely of  “cheap grace”—grace as theory, as principle, as doctrine: a grace which not only implies no inherent praxis but functions exactly to discourage participation.[ci]

The tears of the faith community allow it to live in the delicate balance of relationship that acknowledges past sin but seeks renewal.


Tears and Mission

Alister McGrath identifies six points of contact between the gospel and culture: a sense of unsatisfied longing, human rationality, the ordering of the world, human morality, existential anxiety, and the awareness of finitude and mortality.[cii] Triumphalism and fundamentalism emphasize the separation of the church from its world. Tears, however, allow the church to share the suffering of the world’s sense of longing, existential anxiety, and awareness of finitude and mortality. The world cries and will see God best in the church unafraid to reflect God’s tears for the world in its practice. Lament draws the outsider into the presence of the God who weeps with them. The church has often focused on solving the world’s problems in triumphal proclamation of God’s power when in many cases the church simply needs to come alongside the world’s tears and be present in the tears. The church has often avoided hurt in society for which it has no pragmatic solution. Evangelism to the margins requires boldly entering into other’s suffering and allowing the sufferer to experience the God who cries with them in the presence of the church.



The church that understand the relational nature of tears will be better equipped to minister to the suffering persons in its community. The Christian that understands tears will also be better able to connect with God when the time comes for their own tears. This paper has explored some primary themes related to tears. Further exploration on the primary theological conflicts related to God’s tears and further work in applying the theology to church practice would be beneficial to the church community. While I did not specifically deal with suffering and tears, further research could be done to the specific issues related to suffering and evil as they relate to the human and divine response of crying. This paper begins an exploration of the phenomenon of tears and will equip readers with basics for the certain time in their future when their own tears overwhelm their thinking.





[i] Kimberley Christine Patton and John Stratton Hawley, Introduction to Holy Tears: Weeping in the Religious Imagination (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 1.

[ii] Mark Van Vught, “Why Only Humans Weep: The Science Behind Our Tears,” Psychology Today, (accessed May 12, 2014).

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss (New York: Scribner, 2005), 42.

[v] Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: The Free Press, 1973), 187.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2017

About the Author: F. Wesley Shortridge, D.Min. (Evangel University, 2016), M.A. (Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, 2010), B.A. (Central Bible College, 2009), is the founding pastor of Liberty Community Church in Bealeton, Virginia. Facebook LinkedIn

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