Gravity and tears

Scripture indicates that tears are a phenomenon of earth but not of heaven. And five times Matthew tells us that weeping is a characteristic of hell –

‘In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’

(Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:30, 51).

Mortals from earth are capable of experiencing tears in outer space, but with attendant difficulties. The Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, commander of the International Space Station, was the first earthling to take a walk in space. In his memoirs he describes how he squeezed out through the narrow doorway in his cumbersome space suit to view the universe in its marvellous array of shapes and colours. He compares it to turning to look over your shoulder after concentrating your whole attention on polishing a sheet of glass, only to discover yourself at the top of the Empire State Building!

The next thing he saw was a tear that had formed on his right eyeball, which he instinctively tried to wipe away with his gloved hand that simply clanged against his visor! But when he tried to shake it off, it stubbornly stayed put for lack of gravity. The irritation to his eye provoked yet more tears to form, till that eye was completely blinded.

Anxiously he talked to Mission Control at Houston, Texas, and listened in as they consulted their medical colleagues, while his other eye began to weep. Eventually they told him where to get his gloved hand around a fine tube and insert it into his helmet to drain the tears out into space. After that he could see again to service instruments outside the space station and complete his twenty-minute work shift. Had he pierced his space suit, within moments his blood would have frozen, his testicles would have roasted and his heart and lungs would have packed up.

Tears can be provoked by merriment and laughter. Hadfield’s tears were not provoked by any specific emotion. But tears in any biblical context are always associated with gravity – in the sense of gravitas, serious importance or solemnity. The New Testament word for weeping (klaio) refers to any loud expression of grief, especially the mourning of the dead (who are buried in the grave). The word for a tear (dakruon) occurs always in the plural. In the case of the grateful woman in Luke 7:38, 44, hers were sufficiently copious to wash Jesus’ feet! In her case, they were caused by sheer gratitude for forgiveness.

When John, in the Bible’s shortest verse, tells us that ‘Jesus wept’, he did not use klaio for effusive weeping and loud wailing that occurs everywhere else. He chose the verb that means ‘shed tears’ (dakruo), evidently implying that Jesus did so silently. Whether this was over the sisters’ temporary bereavement or Lazarus’s imminent return to ‘this old world’ from ‘over yonder’, he does not tell, because he didn’t know.

Tears will not be a feature of the redeemed in the age to come, for 

‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’

(Revelation 7:17; 21:4; Isaiah 25:8).

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