I've been thinking since my last post about the virtue contrasts between the early Christians and the Greeks, the Stoics in particular. I'd mentioned that the Greeks privileged self-control while the Christians gave love pride of place.

I'm not sure where I read this, but that discussion reminded me of the contrast some have made between the deaths of Socrates and Jesus. Socrates died the ideal Greek death. Self-composed, stoical, and philosophical. While his students grieved and wept, Socrates calmly drank the hemlock that would kill him.

Jesus, by contrast, sweats blood in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus resists death and is in agony as he faces it. A far cry from Socrates.

In short, the Christian ideal isn't to be stoical. The goal isn't emotional resignation, apathy, or detachment. The Christian ideal is to weep. We see this not only in the garden of Gethsemane, but also in the gospel of John when Jesus confronted the death of his friend. There it says succinctly, "Jesus wept." And, following the Man of Sorrows, Christians are commanded to "weep with those who weep."

To be a Christian is to weep. A lot.


Because, it seems to me, weeping is the only way to see the suffering and pain in the world as objectively bad. The goal isn't to stoically accept the pain, suffering, and death. We aren't supposed to be reconciled to the suffering. We are supposed to emotionally resist. We are supposed to weep. To lament. To cry out. Life isn't okay and I'm not supposed to act like it is. To weep is to object, to protest.

And to be clear, I admire the Stoics. Socrates remains a hero of mine. But in the end, my sensibilities are Christian. I weep.

Like my Lord, I weep.

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15 thoughts on “Weep”

  1. Weep, why? No one is there to hear, or care. This is the real world, where ideals fall short in real terms... This is where philosophy places us, beyond the humane, because of principle, as in Kant.

    Weep, why? one cannot fix all the problems in the world, only their little corner. And no one knows all that transpires in one person's life, unless one is involved it that life. So, there is really no "care" or compassion without a knowledge of the person. This is why one cannot "form" compassion in another, unless one transcribes to a co-ercive power grab over another's life for the "greater good"....or for what is deemed "their good"....

  2. I certainly didn't get the impression from Richard's post that one is only supposed to weep/lament in private. People do hear, and people do care.

    And even if I am all alone while I weep, I am there; this also matters.

  3. Self-control is necessary for those in leadership, otherwise, one's ambition will drive all reason aside and others will be oppressed.

    Love is necessary to remain "human", or in touch with another's life that might differ from your "ideal"...

    Leaders who think their "ideal" should be implemented in an absolute way upon everyone destroy the human spirit. These become tyrannical dictators, manipulators, ideologues. These become disconnected from another's voice, because of their passion, obessession and obessesiveness, and blindness to differences of "ideal" or how that is understood. And what they destroy is liberty and justice for some....

  4. Yes, to "weep with those who weep." To stand with the heart-broken, lonely, forsaken.

    Although, I must confess, I do weep a lot in private. Often for no external reason. Sometimes the realization just sneaks up on me that life is so very sad. And I'll find myself crying.

  5. Richard, this was a little blog and thank you for posting it.

    "Life isn't okay and I'm not supposed to act like it is."

    I also appreciate your transparency- it's encouraging to me. I can't tell you how many times I've said something similar to that comment and people looked at me like there was something wrong with me.

  6. John Howard Yoder has an interesting bit about the contrast between stoicism and early Christianity in Chapter 9 of his book "The Politics of Jesus."

  7. Maybe that's where I heard the contrast between the deaths of Jesus and Socrates.

  8. Richard,

    The Stoics, because they chose to see order in the cosmos, including moral order, are to be admired. Because they chose to ignore joy and suffering, they (and their modern "tough," cracker barrel counterparts) missed the fullness of humans in a real, flesh and blood world. When I live exclusively in my head and not fully in my body, I am engaging in a form of self-protection and possibly denial. I may sometimes need to do that for physical and emotional survival but not always. Doing that exclusively cuts me off (as it did the Stoics) from a fully moral and prophetic response to joy and suffering. Accept joy and walk and leap and praise God. Accept sorrow and weep with Jesus.

    May you be blessed by your tears.

  9. The other philosophies around at the time of the Stoics, are also influential in our society. Wasn't Thomas Jefferson more of an "Epicurean"? And didn't he use Stoicism to formulate "natural law", which is what human rights is based upon?

    That cannot be formulated now that we accept evolutionary theory. One has to have another reason for societal formation...which some have suggest systems theory, but then, collective understanding of "the human" has many problems, I believe...

  10. George,
    You said that when you live in your head you miss the real flesh and blood world, which is true and not true.
    True that we all must understand life through our senses, which is encompassed by our experiences.
    But, our understanding is also formed by what we know in our head, as in education. Education also helps us learn from history which is an important task...

  11. The end of the Rule of St. Columba and large portions of the writings of St. Ephraim the Syrian are about weeping.
    - http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/columba-rule.html
    + Thy measure of prayer shall be until thy tears come;
    + Or thy measure of work of labour till thy tears come;
    + Or thy measure of thy work of labour, or of thy genuflexions, until thy perspiration often comes, if thy tears are not free.

  12. Kester,
    Are you suggesting that "God" will oppress by prayer, labor and physical exertion untill we are helpless, and destitute?

    For this to happen, then political oppression has to occur, because free people would not choose such a life of destitution. Or is this state one of one's own choosing? If political oppression is valid for the sake of "God", then are those in authority to bring about such a state for the 'betterment" of human beings? And is this betterment understood as "turing to God"? Who says that humans will always turn to God in such a "state"? Are those who bring about such a state for humanity basing their understanding on an irrational "faith", such as Islam?

    Medieval history is when the Church was in power, are we to suspect that the Church wants that power back from political leaders, now? If so, then how do we think about the questions concerning absolute political power, the cosmos, and "God" with evolutionary theory? Does history progress? or not? Isn't the understanding of "life" more than about "God", but also about "all that is"?

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