Are Christian men not supposed to cry?

A reader of my recent post about the Head Covering Movement also read a similar post on the Wartburg Watch about “Head Coverings on the Rise.” It explained how certain groups are promoting head coverings in an effort to distinguish male and female identities.

My reader was concerned to see comments there by Tim Bayly, senior pastor of ClearNote Church in Bloomington, Indiana and former Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, claiming that signs of “femininity in men” included “doubting themselves, using hedge words and phrases, wearing jewelry, abdicating authority, shedding tears,” and “being vain in their appearance.”  My reader asked:

Wow – disturbing to see “shedding tears” listed as a violation of men’s roles!!  How can they reconcile that with Jesus??

This is an excellent question, and a response to it provides a useful illustration of how the ideas of male and female roles that some groups are promoting owe much more to cultural influences than to biblical ones.  A similar study could be done of some of Bayly’s other signs of “femininity in men,” as well as of his signs of “masculinity in women.” (These include “working out”–does God not want women to be physically fit?  Even the so-called Proverbs 31 Woman is praised because “her arms are strong for her tasks”!)  But a single study of praiseworthy biblical men shedding tears will have to suffice here.

First, as my reader observed, Jesus himself shed tears openly.  Not only did he weep over the death of his dear friend Lazarus (even though he was just about to raise him from the dead!), he wept openly when he saw Jerusalem from a distance and sensed its impending fate–destruction at the hands of the Romans.

If we consider Jesus our example, as all Christian men and women are supposed to, then he must provide an illustration for both sexes of the freedom to express godly emotions openly.  Indeed, as historic hymns illustrate, the tears Jesus shed on earth have long been understood as a consolation to all who still mourn here:

Jesus wept! those tears are over,
But His heart is still the same;
Kinsman, Friend, and elder Brother,
Is His everlasting Name.
Savior, who can love like Thee,
Gracious One of Bethany?

When the pangs of trial seize us,
When the waves of sorrow roll,
I will lay my head on Jesus,
Refuge of the troubled soul.
Surely, none can feel like Thee,
Weeping One of Bethany!

But while Jesus, in his incarnation, is the supreme biblical example of a godly man, he is not the only praiseworthy man who weeps in the pages of Scripture:

• Esau, often held up as a “man’s man” in the Bible (“a skillful hunter, a man of the open country”), wept when Jacob stole his birthright, and he and Jacob wept together when they were reconciled.

• Jacob wept when he thought his favorite son Joseph had been killed.  Joseph wept when he was reunited in Egypt with his brothers who had betrayed him and he discovered that they were repentant.  (In fact, “he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.”)

• When David and his men–tough guys all–discovered that the Amalekites had raided their city of Ziklag and carried off their families, they “wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.”  David and his friend Jonathan “wept together” when they were forced to part because of the violent jealousy of Jonathan’s father, King Saul.

• Nehemiah wept when he heard that Jerusalem still lay in ruins.

• Peter wept when he realized that he had betrayed Jesus.

• The elders of the church in Ephesus all wept as they said goodbye to Paul for the last time. (Apparently even church elders weeping together isn’t inappropriate, according to the Bible.)

Many other examples could be given, but the point should be clear by now.  To suggest that there is any Scriptural basis for arguing that godly men shouldn’t cry overlooks a broad range of positive examples throughout the Bible, including most notably Jesus himself.  If we are concerned about appropriate roles and identities for men and women, we need to be informed by God’s word about this, not by cultural assumptions.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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