An old 1930s church hymn opens with the lines:
No tears in heaven, no sorrows given,
All will be glory in that land.
There’ll be no sadness. All will be gladness
When we shall join that happy band.
Even bluegrass singer, Eric Clapton, sang, “And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven.”
It is a sweet sentiment, but sadly it is theologically unsound, as many hymns are. I don’t like tearing down other people’s playhouses (like favorite hymns), but reality is what it is, and the fact is that there will be tears in heaven.
And to be quite candid, there has always been something a little unsettling for me, even a bit creepy, about the idea that we will be incapable of being sad in eternity.
So, how did we get this idea that there will be no tears in Heaven?
The prophet Isaiah wrote:
“He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.” – Isaiah 25:8
The Isaiah quote above is referenced by the apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-55, ESV) Isaiah did not specifically mention heaven. The context, rather, is a day of victory on the mountain where the Lord metaphorically makes a great feast of rich food and well-aged wine. But even in that context, there were tears – tears which the Lord God wiped away.
This idea is carried forward into the New Testament where, again, God wipes away our tears. In these New Testament passages, we find believers in white robes, washed in the pure blood of the Lamb of God, standing before the throne of God day and night, sheltered by the presence of the one on the throne. Clearly, this is referencing heaven.
“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” – Revelation 7:16-17
Clearly there will be tears in heaven, but why? The Bible does not say why, specifically, but it does offer some clues.
Returning to the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 66, he is discussing the final judgment of humanity. He speaks of the new heavens and the new earth that the Lord will make, and in that discussion he says this:
“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” – Isaiah 66:24
That is not a pretty picture at all, not the typical “glory to glory, walking streets of gold, rejoicing and praising” picture we typically have of heaven. Here we are surveying the unsaved, and if we have any compassion at all within us, we have to grieve over that incalculable loss! The war for souls is not yet over, and I grieve for the unsaved. I shed tears, even for members of my own family! How much more so when it is all over? When it is too late?
In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul exhorts us in our evangelistic efforts, instructing us to build as a skilled master builder, laying an excellent foundation of Jesus Christ, and building atop that with great care and worthy materials. Then he says this:
Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. – 1 Corinthians 3:13-15
Even some of us who are saved will “suffer loss” as we see that our evangelistic efforts in this life do not “abide” in the final judgment.
I recognize that this is not one of my playful, happy blog posts. It is just what was on my mind this morning, and I do have a commitment to be real with you. Today, I’m grieving over people I love who do not know Jesus the way you and I know Jesus. And it is sad. And I will be sad when the final trumpet blows if their status does not change.
But here is the good news. Yes, there will be tears in heaven, but those tears will be wiped away by the hand of God himself. And that will be the end of it. Look at this beautiful picture the apostle John paints for us:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’
And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.'” – Revelation 21:1-5
Victoriously in Christ!
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This sparks an interesting reflection, Damon J. Gray!
I am just thinking out loud. This is a very interesting train of thought!
On the one hand, I can hear your post highlighting the incredible heavy reality that is bound to his us when heaven descends. And there will certainly be a wave of regret that will hit many of us when we realize who has yet to be converted by the time the trumpet sounds.
But on the other hand, your concluding scripture seems to contradict your main point – specifically in the following excerpt: “”He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.””
Is your post saying this element of John’s vision is hyperbole? Can we mourn the unsaved in heaven if the old – including the emotional experience of grief – has passed away? Could it be that the moments of scripture that describe God wiping away our tears happen just before all things have been made new and not actually in heaven?
I am just thinking out loud. This is a very interesting train of thought!
Hey Micah, thanks for pressing the discussion forward.
I’m sure not going to sit here and pretend that I have all of this figured out. I can see where it looks/sounds like I contradicted myself with the pull from John’s vision. Hopefully I can clarify that.
What got me rolling on this was my assumption that God wiping away every tear was after all is said and done, and we were playing Frisbee-golf non-stop where time is no more. But you pose an interesting question – maybe that’s before things are all wrapped up.
Based on my assumption, it struck me that for God to wipe away my tears, they had to be there to be wiped! That means that there actually are tears in heaven, and then I reasoned (based on John’s vision) that once they were wiped, they were wiped for good, never to return, kind of like my sins being removed from me as far as the east is from the west, never to condemn me.
The good news is that someday we will know. And then you and I can sit down with a glass of the most excellent wine and chat – “”You remember that goofy blog post you made back then?”” 😉
Oh, I certainly wouldn’t say this is a “”goofy”” post! My involvement in full-time ministry right now and my training as a clinical counselor has peaked my interest in what it will look like for God to fully redeem the human emotional experience. There’s something beautiful about the complexity of the emotional experience but we can’t ignore that – like everything – it has decayed into a state God didn’t intend from the beginning. Our emotions are less than perfect.
Your post has me pondering what a perfect emotional experience will look like in heaven. Will it be reduced to simply Joy? Or does Jesus’s walk on earth foreshadow an emotional experience that’s perfectly shaped by righteousness but still multifaceted? After all, Jesus experienced anger and grief during His time in the flesh and there was no sin in Him.
If the latter is true, something less than perfect would need to exist in heaven that would warrant a response other than Joy. But what less than perfect, heavenly thing could that be?
I plan to chew on this a bit more! But I truly look forward to that glass of wine and our celebration of FINALLY knowing the fullness of the Truth in God’s presence 🙂
This is one of those conversations that would keep us up until 2:00 AM, if not later!! I love those conversations. Thank you for helping generate movement in my mind!
Indeed this is one of those conversations! This has been a delightful conversation for me as well! I’m blessed to get notifications every time you publish. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work!