“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27
A man doesn’t have to fit a cultural stereotype to be biblically masculine. He can be a man whether watching a football game, painting a picture, tearing up at a moving film, or wiping snotty noses. Macho does not define masculinity. Instead, masculinity models after Jesus himself.
Sometimes it seems miraculous that any of us show any emotion at all. So many forces within and without conspire to confuse the issue until we don’t know when or where to express ourselves.
We poke fun when public figures show emotion, yet crave a less callous world. We struggle to name our feelings, even though we repost sentimental videos. Relieving the tension of tears, we joke about how dusty the room is or the presence of someone slicing onions.
For every pop song encouraging us to Let Her Cry or Cry Me a River, there is an equal and opposite No Woman, No Cry or Don’t Cry. Big girls don’t cry. Boys don’t cry, either.
This emotional disorientation rings true for both men and women, but I feel it acutely as a man. The moment I breathe a sigh of relief, believing we’ve moved beyond unhelpful symbols of stoic, stiff-lipped manhood, tends to be the moment I find such symbols reinforced.
Christian circles encourage men to look to the Bible in hopes of defining and reclaiming manhood. What we find there might surprise us. Yes, we discover warrior-kings who put the man in manifest destiny. But we also come across men who cry — scores of them.
Lingering among the poets and prophets, we recognize tender emotion is not a New Testament phenomenon. It does not arrive with Jesus, furthering a false dichotomy which pits an Old Testament God against his only begotten son.
Rather, this soft-heartedness befits God from the very beginning, a key part of what the one and only emotionally-balanced being holds in tension.
For all their faults and fateful mood swings, David and his band of liturgists represent God’s emotional range through real blood, sweat, and tears. David writes of flooding “his bed with tears” and drenching “his couch with weeping” in the middle of deep dread (Ps. 6:6).
On multiple occasions, psalmists write of tears as sustenance (Ps. 42:3, 102:9), suggesting prolonged periods of grief and melancholy contribute to a healthy emotional and spiritual life, granted the Christian seeks balance across the span of his or her days.
The psalmist’s tears flow outward in Psalm 119, affirming the rightness of weeping over those who stray from God’s best for their lives: “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.”
Jeremiah earned the nickname “the weeping prophet.” Recently finishing the first two seasons of the vanguard 1990s TV series Twin Peaks, I imagine the prophet as someone like Deputy Andy Brennan who, in a wholly unprofessional but emotionally authentic manner, bursts into tears every time he encounters a murder scene. Likewise, Jeremiah can’t help but weep when he comes across another mess made by God’s people.
In Jeremiah 9:1, he laments, “Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!”
In subsequent chapters, he vows to weep over the people’s pride, cries over their captivity, and sheds tears over the fate of the nations. Jeremiah represents God’s wishes and ways to his people. Of course, God uses each of his prophets’ particular skills, strengths and tempers — but if Jeremiah weeps over the people, God does too.
Traveling into the New Testament, we see the same impulse in Jesus. He weeps over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44), displaying the true heart of God for those who will not turn from the sin that slowly kills them.
Jesus famously weeps over his dead friend Lazarus in the Bible’s shortest verse (John 11:35), reminding us grief is sewn into the condition of a fallen world. Even when we are assured of God’s eventual resurrection, as Jesus clearly was, it is good and right to mourn those we love.
Peter weeps when he recognizes the gravity of his own sin (Luke 22:62). Likewise, our hearts should break open and our emotions spill out in those moments when our eyes see our betrayal of God in things little and great.
Paul provides a beautiful model for the tearful pastor, weeping often over congregations he loves. His tears are a sign of his affection (2 Cor. 2:4), and his deep desire to protect the church, so it might flourish in faith (Phil. 3:18).
The biblical narrative presents a compelling, clear picture: Men who have been with God will cry. They cry over that which breaks God’s own heart, and shed tears as a sign of their love for God and his people.
This doesn’t mean God completely rewrites the emotional makeup of the Christian man or, that once converted, a relatively calm or stoic person becomes overly demonstrative. We can affirm, however, that the gospel introduces softness where there once was only something hard and impenetrable (Ezek. 36:26).
It isn’t necessarily a shame if men don’t cry. The shame is when men don’t cry because their tears are choked out by cultural forces, or because they remain beholden to the last, calcified remains of their old, hardened selves.
In my experience, the words and prayers of people living in light of the gospel evoke tears — and these people are easily edified and moved by the beauty of God and kindness of salvation.
I see evidence in my friend Bobby, who often experiences moments of true tenderness in the presence of Gospel proclamation; in Billy, a church planter who reminds me of Jeremiah and Andy Brennan, often weeping in the pulpit out of a genuine desire to see people know Jesus; in Kurt, who can’t help but tear up as he recounts God’s mercies made manifest through God’s people.
Many days, I wish to be like them. I write about the goodness of men crying not from the softness of my own heart, but from hopeful aspiration.
At a very fixed point a few years ago, my wife puzzled aloud over my lack of emotion when discussing childhood trauma, the sins of once dear friends and the connections those sins frayed. I wasn’t holding back to meet some outmoded, one-size-fits-all standard of manhood, but out of the cumulative effect of that trauma, waning faith, and a resulting bout of self-reliance.
But I want to cry. I want to cry over the state of the world, then cry at the promise of a new one. I want to weep over my sin, then cry tears of thankful relief as God meets me in it. I want to cry in front of my son, so he can know that our emotions are as fearfully and wonderfully made as any other part of us.
When I look for heroes of the faith, in holy texts and down the street, I see men who cry. Of course, I see wonderful, gospel-changed women too.
But as a man who still sees the large shadow of stubborn, sober manhood, I find great comfort in knowing these men exist. I will pray and position myself close to a gospel which softens clay and softens men, so I might join them more often, together bearing another aspect of the image of God.
This article originally appeared here.