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Nelson Mandela, ex-president of South Africa, was incarcerated at Robben Island penal colony for his anti-apartheid activities. For 18 years, he worked breaking rocks in a limestone quarry beneath the glaring sun. By the time of his release in 1990, he had lost his ability to cry: his tear ducts had virtually been destroyed by wind-blown grit and the glare from the sun reflecting off the rocks had damaged his eyes. In 1995, at the age of 75, he underwent a cataract operation on his left eye and, at the same time, the surgeon also redirected his damaged tear ducts.

Tears are a watery solution, containing certain enzymes produced by the lacrymal glands above each eye. They flow through tiny ducts over the surface of the eye, and help to clean and lubricate it, thus preventing it from drying and becoming infected. All this is just a tiny part of the many functions in the wonderful working of our bodies.

Deep emotional experiences, sadness and grief, or even joyful reunions, are often expressed in tears. The loss of a loved one, tragic news, or witnessing suffering and pain, can overwhelm us and cause tears to flow. Crying is often a way of expressing ourselves when words fail.

There are many references to weeping and tears in the Bible. The Psalmist cried out, 'My tears have been my food day and night' (Ps. 42:3). Perhaps amongst the most precious references, he said, 'Put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?' (Ps. 56:8) It's as if he senses the preciousness to God of each tear he shed: all counted, preserved and treasured by the God who will not 'cause His child a needless tear'(1). George Matheson the blind Scottish poet, wrote,

Teach me the glory of my cross;

teach me the value of my 'thorn' ...

Show me that my tears have made my rainbow

as if tracing the promise of a faithful God through trials.

Jeremiah cried out to the Lord, 'Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of ' my people!' (Jer. 9:1)

Joseph was someone who experienced trial and affliction, and on several occasions we find him weeping (Gen. 42:24; 43:30; 45:1-2,14; 50:1). He was sold into slavery, wrongfully put into prison, but finally appointed as one of the highest officials in the land of Egypt. His brothers, who had so cruelly ill-treated him, now seeking food, were brought before him and he overheard their conversation among themselves; their expression of guilt was apparent. 'He turned himself away from them and wept' (Gen. 42:24). Finally, in that deeply moving scene he reveals himself to them. 'Joseph could not restrain himself ' And he wept aloud ' Then Joseph said to his brothers, 'I am Joseph; does my father still live?' (Gen. 45:1-3). The reunion of Joseph with his aged father again brought tears; this time tears of gladness and joy. 'Then Joseph fell on his father's face, and wept over him, and kissed him' (Gen. 50:1).

'Jesus wept' (John 11:35): words which evoke deep feeling as we try to explore the mystery of the incarnate Son of God, standing at the tomb of one He loved - weeping. Jesus wept (lit. shed tears, a word which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament). He shares the grief of Martha and Mary whose brother had died, His heart of love and compassion moved to tears: 'who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear' (Heb. 5:7). Truly in Him, we have One who is touched with our own feelings and need.

Often in our experiences in life we may pass through times when our faith is tried, events and happenings overwhelm us and tears are shed. We ask - 'Why?' The way ahead seems dark and worthless.

In John's vision on the Isle of Patmos a wonderful state of blessedness is revealed. 'And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away' (Rev. 21:4). What a blessed hope we have!

God knows the way, He holds the key,

He guides us with unerring hand;

Some time with tearless eyes we'll see;

Yes there, up there, we'll understand.

(Dr. M.C.Cornelius)


(1) My times are in Thy hand, William F.Lloyd

Bible quotations from NKJV