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!