[This post from two years ago got some recent attention on social media sites. Because of that I though I'd bring it back out front...]

I've been thinking recently about the virtue contrasts between the early Christians and the Greeks, the Stoics in particular. In a recent post 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 in 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 or to see our suffering as an illusion or mistake. 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.

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13 thoughts on “Weep”

  1. "The Christian ideal is to weep.""To be a Christian is to weep. A lot."

    Very tough and true words for modern males to accept, yet I find myself weeping in and over some very unexpected situations these days.

    So very difficult for me to give in to that weeping and let it go to its fullness. Stoicism still rears its head these days; balance between reason and emotion seems impossible sometimes. However, for us to find true equilibrium on our individual balances, the scale must sometimes swing freely.

    "I weep."

    As do I. My deepest hope is that one day, those tears will be only of overwhelming joy, rather than sadness or regret.

    Thank you very much for this meditation today, Richard. It is so very relevant to me today as I am trying to reach out and understand a member of the LDS church on another message board, and the great amount of animosity towards Mormons from the general evangelical community. I'm left with the thought that orthopraxy trumps orthodoxy, every time.

  2. Thanks, Dr. Beck.  This Jesus who wept and agonized because he loved enough to suffer *with* others is One with whom I can identify...  "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  (Matt. 9:36, NLT)  I can barely read that out loud without bursting into tears.  I am not sure whether the emotion arises more from a sense of gratitude for the compassionate heart of God, revealed in this Jesus, or a sense of being one of the confused and helpless who needs his compassionate care.  Probably a little of both.  ~Peace~

  3. Impeccable timing! I read the story of Joseph in my Bible reading time this morning and was struck by how often (and loudly -- the Egyptians heard him in the next room once!) Joseph wept. When I consider that God chose Joseph and his momma's-boy father Jacob instead of rough-and-hairy Esau, it makes me wonder how anyone could ever get the idea that "real Christan men" need to be lumberjackian manly-men who never show emotion.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  4. I was part of a legalistic fundamentalist sect for many years. Crying was considered to be some sort of failing. There was constant pressure to be be- "good, Praise the Lord!" I largely kept up this stoic exterior until my daughter was serioosly injured in an accident. Then I cried, wept, and groaned day after day. Her agony was too heavy for me to bear up under and the floodgates well and truely opened. However in the midst of my agony and tears I found not a stoic Jesus telling me to toughen up but rather the weeping agonizing Saviour sharing with me my grief. I have no doubt that experience was instrumental to our family leaving that sect shortly afterwards. These days I often cry and it's almost always linked to some sort of human suffering.

  5. Thanks for bringing this offering back around. Compassion, emotional vulnerability, identification with the weak, poor, miserable, abused
    does not conjur up the tough warrior image or impassive philosopher image, but it does present a manifestation of the God of Israel who grieved and allowed anguish to permeate his/her very being over his recalcitrant, suffering people? David cried out to this God. Jesus cried out to this God. He who knew no sin suffered with us. He knows what suffering is. The God of Hessed, loving kindness, weeps for his wayward children. This is a God who deserves my allegiance, my love and my caring identification with my fellow hurting creatures.

  6. In his "Questions of Faith: A Skeptical Affirmation of Christianity", Peter Berger references the Jesus/Socrates contrast to a book by Oscar Cullman "Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Body". I guess a similar comparison could be made to the death of Seneca.  I personally find a lot of wisdom in what the Stoics have to say, particularly Seneca, but also Epictetus. Their attitude of being prepared for death at any time can be compared with Jesus own teachings (for example, the rich man who had all sorts of plans but then died in the night"

  7. What's interesting is that even the gospel writers get into arguments over this issue. Mark's Jesus is very human and very emotionally expressive, but John, on the other hand, has Jesus say "...what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour?' No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour." (12:27) Then he gives a very long speech/prayer in which he seems to be entirely in control of his emotions and continues to instruct the disciple in the ins and outs of what is about to happen. It is as if John could not (theologically?) accept a Jesus who showed any emotional turmoil, at least over his own death, even if he could weep over his friend Lazarus. I've always preferred Mark, however. I wonder if John needed to have an in-control Jesus for his own assurance, or if, like your former sect, he just couldn't see emotions as healthy expression rather than as doubting the ultimate goodness of God...

  8. I prefer Mark's Gospel too (except at Christmas!). It contains one of the funniest stories in the Bible where Jesus says to his disciples "Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod" and the disciples say to themselves "He's saying this because we forgot to bring bread" ;) Both Jesus and the disciples are humanised, with the disciples being a rabble who half the time don't understand Jesus teaching and the other half jockey for position in heaven. I guess this is why their transformation after the Resurrection was so amazing. Interestingly, I read somewhere that one of the early Church Fathers (Irenaeus I think) said that there were four Gospels in order to defeat heresy: people who believed that Jesus was just a man followed Mark's Gospel whereas Gnostics, who thought that Jesus was purely spirit preferred John's Gospel. By including both Gospels, both heresies were combatted.

  9. My brother left this morning for college, leaving me alone with my uncle's family. More often than not, the times I want to weep most are those when I am saying good-bye or leaving, a common occurrence having grown up in a missionary family. It's not easy to push down those emotions, but once you have, it can be difficult to bring them back up again.

    There's definitely a freedom in letting yourself fully express what you feel. I just wish that it were more acceptable. 

  10. My "evangelical stoicism" went right out the door when I was caring for my mom during the final six months of her life. I wept bitterly over her suffering and impending loss; it was a long and hard process. We both were assured of the "future hope" that was to come, but....death is death, and it still stinks!!!
    Judy Gale
    Chapel Hill, NC

  11. I have a question. How do you reconcile this with the idea of temperaments? Psychology being my side hobby/passion, just as theology is for you, I took several courses while I was in college and ran across this material a couple times (oddly enough - never in "Personality Psychology" - which was weird).  What I'm referring to specifically are the Sensitivity and Intensity scales. That is, a person's sensitivity to stimuli (say, something sad) and the level with which they tend to respond to stimuli (say, stoicism versus weeping).  

    I find that I am generally an emotional person and while I temper my reactions I occasionally feel the need to cry violently or jump for joy.  My boyfriend, on the other hand, is much more reserved and, I would guess, lower on the intensity scale.  It is uncommon for him to become very expressive when he is happy and downright rare for him to express negative emotions - he has to be very upset to get to that point. I have always thought of these as mere temperament differences - since that's what they are - but I know that while I may weep over something, he may not feel the need or desire for such expressive emotion.  

    I am curious as to how you would frame your post in light of sensitivity and intensity scales.  While I agree with your point, could we peg any of the Stoicism/Christianity divide down to mere temperament inclinations?

  12. That night my grandmother was in an accident, and she passed away. The funeral was this morning. 

    It's. . . a mystery, the way things work out sometimes. I now know more than ever what a wonderful, loving woman she was, while at the same time knowing that I won't see her until we meet again in heaven. 
    Today, and the two days of viewing prior, I saw weeping as a form of protest. Why did she have to leave us so early, why couldn't we have had a chance to properly say good-bye? In the same way our weeping was in objection to the broken ways of this world. God never intended death to be a part of his creation, and in our hearts we rebel against what has happened. 

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