I shared with you not so long ago, a sermon point I made when speaking before my home church family that “Life is Pain.” It’s not a happy point to make, and we did ultimately turn it to a good thing.
There are times when life’s sorrows are so overwhelming that we see little to no hope of overcoming them. Chronic grief or dispair overwhelm us, and fight it as we will, the sorrow wells our eyes and we collapse into our flood of tears.
The pain of life often involves tears, and often those who attempt to comfort the tearful will do so by saying something like, “Oh, don’t cry. There. There. Everything will be fine. Don’t cry.”
While the comforting friend means well, “Don’t cry” is not the message of the Bible. Indeed, in my searching, I could find only one reference to not crying, and involved Jesus speaking to the widow whose only son had just died.1 In this instance, Jesus was saying, Don’t cry because I am about to raise your dead son to life.
I’ll Save Your Tears
Rather than urging us to “man-up” or “woman-up” and knock off that crying, what God says is that he sees our tears just as he sees the sparrow that falls to the ground.2 And not only does God see our tears, he captures them and saves them in his tear bottle.
You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?
– Isaiah 65:17, ESV
This single verse gives us great insight into the heart of our God. His love for us runs so deeply that he has a tear bottle, and the indication is that he holds a tear bottle distinct to me and one for you. God has a tear bottle for each of his tossing, wandering children.
We don’t hear much about tear bottles outside of the biblical account, but such artifacts have been excavated by archeologists. The speculation is that the bottles of tears were placed by mourners at burial sites. They’re not bottles in the sense that we think of a bottle, but rather wineskin vessels that were used to capture and preserve the tears of the owner, tears shed during moments of great distress.
Psalm 56 (quoted above) was written by David when he was being pursued by King Saul. He had Saul and his army on one side and the city of Goliath on the other. His grief had to be overwhelming.
It seems David had his own tear bottle, and further believed that God was miraculously storing his tears in a heavenly bottle of his own. Even if just metaphorically, the imagry is deeply moving.
Jesus & Tear Bottles
In Luke 7, we have a beautiful story that took place early in the ministry of Jesus, and without the story actually saying so, I am convinced it involves a tear bottle. Here is how the event unfolded:
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
– Luke 7:36-38, NIV-1978
This is a story fraught with emotion stemming from the culture and the language, and we don’t have time to go into that now. We see the woman using both ointment and tears. She washed his feet with her tears and anointed them with the perfume. I am persuaded as the text tells us only that she was weeping, that she also used the tears from her tear bottle to anoint the feet of Jesus
She used her tear bottle, emptying it onto his feet, to perform one of the lowliest acts she could possibly perform – washing feet – an act that Simon, the host, did not do for his guests.
God knows our sorrows. He sees our tears and, whether metaphorically or literally, he stores them. Just as he has a “scroll of remembrance, [that] was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD, and honored,”3 the Lord has an accounting for every grief you have experienced, every sorrow you have mourned, and every tear you have shed.
Be comforted in that reality.
1. Luke 7:11-17
2. Mattiew 10:29
3. Malachi 3:16, NIV-1978