Four days before the World Trade Center Bombings I was meditating on Psalm 42. Sometimes God is preparing our hearts for things we don’t even know we need. So for all of you
- who are fine right now,
- there’s no tragedy you are fighting against,
- no illness you are seeking to overcome,
- no relationship that broken,
- no urgency to your prayers,
I invite you to invest in your daily meditation in the word of God. Precisely, because you don’t know what tomorrow brings, invest in the word of God today. So that when the crisis comes, and it will, you have something in your spiritual bank account from which you can draw. Your soul needs the word of God more than you know.
Strange Food for the Wounded Heart
3 My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Psalm 42:3 (NIV)
How can tears be food? Food is that which sustains life. Without food, the human body withers and dies. The intake of food is a symbol of God’s blessing throughout the Scripture. One day, the redeemed will sit at the wedding “feast” of the lamb and will be nourished by the bounty of His table. (Luke 13:29; 14:15; 22:16). Food, adds to life’s enjoyment.
Tears on the other hand, are generally thought of as subtracting from life. We know there are tears of joy and gladness. But generally, when we see tears in others we assume some sadness or loss, or hurt, or injury, or betrayal, or disappointment, or longing, or illness, or failure, or fear. Tears don’t add to life, they subtract.
But the Psalmist tells us something different, something that captures our attention. He is in pain. His enemies surround and taunt him. His soul languishes with longing for the presence of God. His spirit thirsts for a living relationship with the Living God. His psyche is “downcast”—an excellent rendering of the Hebrew word (shachach) and a remarkably descriptive and evocative word for depression (cf. vs. 5). All of his pride and confidence has been knocked out of him. He is humbled and needy.
But in the midst of the turmoil and angst of his situation these startling words arrest our eyes:
“My tears have been my food day and night.”
How can tears be food? Is this only a metaphor? Is the psalmist just saying that he has spent the day and night weeping? Or is he suggesting something else—something that falls into the category of “hard truth?” Is there a nourishment that flows to the spirit of a man or woman from their tears? All tears? Or just certain types of tears? How can the tears of anguish and loneliness and longing nourish? And how can sustained eating of such food, (“day and night”) nourish and sustain a beleaguered heart? Can tears actually nourish the soul? Is there something about pain and suffering and heartache that the Spirit of God wants us to know?
The tears of our sadness and loss drive us to the realization that we need, desperately need, others. That is a good thing.
The faith of the faithful in the Old and New Testaments is a faith that is to be lived out in community. We need one another to bolster and nourish our faith in God.
The tears of our hurt and injury remind us of our fragility and need for God’s redemption and protection. That too is a good thing.
We don’t like to be reminded that we are “contingent beings” but we need it periodically, nonetheless. We are not invincible. Only God is not fragile. All of us are. We need Him and we need to be reminded that we need Him because our souls are “prone to wander.”
The tears of our disappointment and longing are God’s megaphone, calling our hearts to value ultimate things. That is perhaps our greatest need.
“Pain” C.S. Lewis wisely pointed out, is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
It is so easy for our hearts to run after lesser things. It is so easy to be satisfied with jobs, and cars, and houses, and education and accomplishment and sex, and video games and internet. All things destined to pass away in a flash of burning judgment. To quote Lewis again, like children, we settle for mud pies when God invites us to a holiday at the beach. Our tears of disappointment call our hearts to value the things that are not seen (but promised to us forever) more than the things that are (and that are not promised to us forever).
The tears of our failures and fears cause us to run into Him whose arms are always open. That is our only hope.
And as we run to Him, we find Him running toward us! (Luke 15:20) When our eyes see the God of all creation running toward us to embrace us after all our failures and in the midst of all our fears and we see the nail prints in His hands, surely, our souls are nourished by the tears that flow in such a time.
But perhaps more than all of these, our tears, when they are centered in a righteous defense of God and His truth, which is at least part of the context of Psalm 42-43, nourishes the soul precisely because those tears are all the believer has to hold on to at times. They are the expressions of love and commitment that the loving and committed heart gives when there is nothing else left to give. They nourish because in the heavenly abode of God they are received, remembered and bottled (Ps. 56:8).
And because they are remembered, they will be recompensed. So the righteous, who live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4), are nourished by their tears because they know on the basis of the all seeing eye of God and the promise of His word that every tear is recorded. Every tear is valued and treasured by the God who is worth standing for when the taunts of unbelievers are mockingly loud.
“Where is your God?” Our tears declare our hope in Him. And in the supernatural and paradoxical plan of God, they nourish our souls. Your tears, every one of them, are precious to Him. Remember that, and comfort one another with your tears.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1962) 93.
Written 4 days before the World Trade Center murders on 9/11/2001