Life, Hope & Truth

Crying: What the Bible Says

Growing up, boys are often told that big boys don’t cry. But is that what the Bible says? What is God’s perspective on crying and tears?

Strangely, some of my favorite Bible verses mention crying and tears. But that begins to make sense when you note that some of those verses mention weeping as a thing of the past.

It’s not that I cry a lot now, though as this article will show, perhaps I should. I grew up thinking that guys should not cry and that if tears were stinging your eyes, you needed to hide them and divert attention.

The Bible doesn’t say real men don’t cry

But when you study what the Bible says about crying, you find it does not have different rules for men and women, and it doesn’t say big boys or real men don’t cry.

In fact, many of the heroes of the Bible, male and female, have their tears recorded.

The Bible says Ruth (Ruth 1:9), Hannah (1 Samuel 1:7, 10), Esther (Esther 8:3), Mary Magdalene (John 20:11) and the widows in Joppa (Acts 9:39) wept, among other faithful women.

But it also has a long list of faithful men who cried. These include Job (Job 16:20), Joseph (Genesis 43:30), David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:41), Elisha (2 Kings 8:10-12), Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:5), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1; 13:17), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4), Paul (Acts 20:19), Timothy (2 Timothy 1:4), John (Revelation 5:4) and Jesus Christ Himself (John 11:35; see the blog post “Jesus Wept”).

The real men of God were not afraid to cry. In fact, many times God was pleased by the attitudes and emotions behind the tears of faithful people—both men and women.

Science and statistics

Note that surveys and biology don’t support the idea that men don’t or shouldn’t cry, but they do show some differences and possible reasons.

Lorna Collier wrote in the American Psychological Association magazine article “Why We Cry”:

“In the 1980s, biochemist William H. Frey, PhD, found that women cry an average of 5.3 times a month, while men cry an average of 1.3 times per month, with crying defined as anything from moist eyes to full-on sobbing. Those averages still appear to be about the same, suggests newer research, including work by Lauren Bylsma, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh (Journal of Research in Personality, 2011).

“Biologically, there may be a reason women cry more than men: Testosterone may inhibit crying, while the hormone prolactin (seen in higher levels in women) may promote it. But a desire to cry is not all nature. A study of people in 35 countries found that the difference between how often men and women cry may be more pronounced in countries that allow greater freedom of expression and social resources, such as Chile, Sweden and the United States. Ghana, Nigeria and Nepal, on the other hand, reported only slightly higher tear rates for women (Cross-Cultural Research, 2011).”

Crying can be good or bad

First the bad news. The Bible has nothing good to say about some types of crying. Samson’s wife’s manipulative tears did nothing good (Judges 14:16-17). Esau’s self-pitying tears didn’t show real repentance (Hebrews 12:17). And in many passages the worst fate of all for the incorrigibly wicked who will not repent is to be cast out with “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).

But the Bible many times shows crying in a good light, with a positive outcome.

  • A man whose son was suffering “cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:24). And Jesus healed the boy.
  • The sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears was truly repentant and received forgiveness (Luke 7:38, 47-50).
  • Peter “wept bitterly” after denying Jesus three times, but this led to real repentance and change (Matthew 26:75; John 21:15-19).
  • Even Jesus prayed “with vehement cries and tears” and was heard by God and “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:7-8).
  • And Jesus promised His disciples that though they would “weep and lament” over His death, “your sorrow will be turned into joy” (John 16:20).

Blessings for those who weep

Sometimes we are even told to weep.

Ezekiel recorded a prophecy showing God’s expectation of His people living in evil times, and it includes crying. “And the LORD said to him, ‘Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it’” (Ezekiel 9:4, emphasis added). Cry could also be translated “groan” (English Standard Version) or “lament” (New International Version).

God hates the sins and abominations that are leading to the destruction of our world, and He wants His people to be sighing and crying. When we look at it from His perspective and recognize the pain and suffering sin causes, we will be emotionally affected by it. He wants us to be praying fervently for the end of this evil age and the coming of His Kingdom. (See more about this in our article “Why Pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’?”)

The apostle Paul encouraged Christian unity, which includes the willingness to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).The apostle Paul encouraged Christian unity, which includes the willingness to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). To do this we need to grow in brotherly love and compassion—aspects of Christian character (verse 10; 1 Peter 3:8).

Scientists have studied the effects of empathy and lack of it on those who are crying. The American Psychological Association article notes:

“Why you cry and who sees you do it appear to make a difference in whether crying helps or hurts your emotional state (Journal of Research in Personality, 2011). In the study, [Lauren Bylsma] and colleagues found that crying was more likely to make people feel better when they had emotional support (such as a close friend nearby), if they were crying due to a positive event, or if their crying led to a resolution or new understanding of the situation that led them to cry in the first place. Criers felt worse if they felt embarrassed or ashamed of crying, if they were with unsupportive people or if they cried because they saw suffering.”

No one wants to suffer, but suffering together builds bonds of Christian unity that have immediate and eternal benefits (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Someday crying will end

Thankfully, crying is only temporary. Someday it will be a distant memory.

Jesus taught, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21). Those who mourn “shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

As David put it, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

God promises a future time when all the human lessons have been learned, the sins have been overcome, and the evils have been removed. Then:

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

May God speed that day!

Explore what the Bible says about crying further by reading these blog posts:

 

Sidebar: “I Fell for the Belief That Not Crying Made You Tough”

Somehow, as I grew up, I fell for the belief that not crying made you tough. If that’s the case, then I’m pretty tough because I haven’t cried for years, with the exception of peeling onions. I used to think that I was pretty tough.

Then I started looking at those who did cry. Men and women who had serious illnesses that you couldn’t tell by looking at them. People who gave until they had nothing left to give and then gave some more anyway. When the going got tough, many of those who cried stood strong.

And the Bible says “there is a time to weep” and that “Jesus wept.”

The truth is that some of the strongest people I know cry often. And me, with my lack of tears? That’s my weakness. Crying shows emotion and who we really are. While it can be overdone, crying is not a bad thing.

And not crying doesn’t mean we’re tougher than most. It could mean we’re too weak to let those emotions out, to let people see us as we really are. It all gets stored inside and covered by one of the most effective of masks: a smile assuring everyone that all is right with the world.

I’m not strong enough to let the whole world see me completely as I really am, while perhaps those who cry are.

If you’re someone who cries, you may be stronger than you think.

—Joshua Travers

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