A Response to TGC on weeping

A couple of days ago, Kevin DeYoung published an article on The Gospel Coalition’s website concerning weeping with those who weep.

I found it quite disturbing, and I want to attempt to explain why.

To set the mood for the blog, he introduces Romans 12:15 and writes,

In recent years, the second half of the verse in particular has been emphasized as a key component in caring for victims, in listening to the stories of the oppressed, and in showing compassion to the hurting.

And then he adds:

These emphases are right and proper. Oftentimes the first thing we must do with sufferers is simply come alongside them, acknowledge their pain, express our condolences, and assure them of our love and prayers.

So far so good.

And then he spends the rest of the blog adding qualifier after qualifier until nothing is left.

The most disturbing sentence is this one:

Surely, the second half of Romans 12:15 does not mean that the only response to grieving people is to grieve with them. Diving into facts, pursuing objectivity, listening to all sides—these are not invalidated by Romans 12:15. “Weep with those who weep” does not dictate that the reasons for our weeping can never be mistaken. In short, the verse must mean something like “weep with those who have good, biblical reason to be weeping.”

I will explain why this disturbs me in a moment. First, to be fair to Rev. DeYoung, I would like to give his reasoning. Arguing from the parallelism of the passage, he writes:

One, almost everyone interprets the first half of Romans 12:15 along the lines just stated above. That is, no one thinks God wants us to rejoice with those who rejoice over the Taliban coming to power. No matter how genuine the rejoicing may be, Christians should not join with those who celebrate abortion or parade their sexual immorality or delight in racial prejudice. Instinctively, we know that the first half of Romans 12:15 means something like, “rejoice with those who have good, biblical reason to be rejoicing.”

His argument, then, is that since we do not indiscriminately rejoice over the Taliban coming into power, but rather we rejoice with those who have good and Biblical reasons for rejoicing, it then follows that weeping also must only be done with those who have good, biblical reasons for weeping.

First of all, this trend among the celebrity neo-“reformed” to view compassion with suspicion is quite disturbing. Why is there such a need in these guys’ minds to add caveat after caveat to compassion and empathy? As soon as we start defining who is and who is not worthy of our compassion, we enter into dangerous territory.

But before I go there, I would first like to critique his exegesis. He adds so many “traditions of men” that the command of God is of no effect, and is therefore committing the same fallacy as the Pharisees of old. Jesus explains this in Mark 7:9ff.

9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.
  10 “For Moses said,`Honor your father and your mother’; and,`He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’
  11 “But you say,`If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban “– ‘(that is, a gift to God),
  12 “then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother,
  13 “making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
  (Mark. 7:9-13)

In other words, according to the teachers at the time, if they had “good and biblical reasons”, they were not obliged to provide for their parents. What more biblical reason could there be than dedicating all of your goods to God himself?

DeYoung makes the same error, in my view. He takes a simple command…weep with those who weep…and adds so many caveats in order to explain that not EVERY person weeping deserves our tears of sympathy.

There have been so many articles lately about this that it is starting to bother me. What are they trying to prevent? Why are the tears of the abused so threatening to them that they have to find a way to silence them?

But back to DeYoung’s exegesis. His example of the Taliban does not hold up, because according to the text itself, Paul is speaking of the context of our neighbors, our fellow church members, and those that we interact with every day.

DeYoung finds the most extreme example (surely you wouldn’t rejoice with a terrorist) and then seeks to apply that to our neighbors.

He also draws a false contrast – “Diving into facts, pursuing objectivity, listening to all sides” is contrasted with weeping with those who weep. It appears that what he is saying is that you can do one or the other. If you dive into the facts, etc., and then determine that the one weeping has grounds for weeping, then Rom. 12:15 comes into play, but not before.

Wow. It just got complicated, didn’t it? Since sin is in the world, if you follow what he seems to be saying, you will always find a reason not to weep with those who weep. There will always be sin involved, therefore I don’t have to obey God. We nullify the command of God so that we might keep our traditions.

One more note on this, Paul isn’t talking about a judicatory of the church. Why must we all, as private citizens, assume that we are the arbiters of truth and that every complaint brought to us must be decided as if we were judges and jurists? Why can’t we just believe people and weep with them? Paul isn’t talking about adjudicating their case. He is talking about compassion.

But what if this passage means exactly what it says. “Leave vengeance in the hands of God. Love without hypocrisy. Empathize with one another.”

Rejoicing and weeping require some entering into the emotions of others, and this terrifies certain minds of the Reformed persuasion. But what if we let the scripture shape us, rather that us trying to make scripture fit our molds?

What if we learned what made our neighbors weep and wept with them?

Suppose, to use and extreme example, our neighbors are a gay couple. And suppose the state legislature passes a law forbidding gay couples from cohabitating together. They are scared. They don’t know what the future holds. Their whole world has turned upside down. Do they have “good and biblical reasons” for weeping?

It gets tricky, doesn’t it? Now you have to determine if the desire for safety and peace, the longing for acceptance and worth, and the security of a person’s home are biblical desires, and if so, are they trumped by the fact that they are living in sin?

Suppose the Taliban has taken over and has commanded that every gay couple be publicly flogged and then executed? Do we weep with them then?

If we ever get to the point that we are OK watching anyone getting flogged publicly, or executed by stoning, we are in a very scary state indeed.  I fear that we are headed there faster than we think.

Wouldn’t it be easier to simply weep with those who weep, and try to enter into their pain and sit with them?

Example two – a 15 year-old girl is raped. She gets pregnant and she is terrified of her church finding out. So afraid, in fact, that she sees no alternative but to abort her baby.

Is she no longer worthy of our tears? Is she no longer human now? What if it happened while she was at a party that her parents didn’t know she went to? What if she was drinking there? Is she now no longer worthy of our tears? No wonder she is terrified of telling the church, if their response is dictated by people like DeYoung. First, determine if their weeping is good and biblical. THEN weep with them. No wonder we are losing the war against abortion.

One example I read a few months ago was this one, “Surely you wouldn’t weep with a drug dealer who lost his whole stash in a house fire.” Once again, using the most extreme example that you can think of isn’t really the best way to do exegesis.

But let’s look at it. Suppose that this drug dealer is your son. And the drugs that he lost weren’t his. And now the cartel is after him. We can certainly hold to our belief that actions have consequences and at the same time be crushed with grief and tears. Surely every parent knows this grief. Surely the father of the prodigal wept great tears at the state of his son, even though it was his son’s fault he was in that state. Isn’t that the point of our faith?

Don’t we worship a God who plucks us out of the miry pit?

Jesus himself wept over Jerusalem, even though their destruction was just and good.

I would never bare my heart to anyone who says things like this, and it certainly isn’t what Paul means.

Paul means quite simply what he says. If your friends and neighbors are rejoicing, rejoice with them. If they are weeping, weep with them. It simply means to enter into their lives. They are image-bearers of God. It certainly doesn’t mean to approve of their sins. If means to have compassion.

You cannot do this without empathy. I am extremely disturbed that compassion and empathy are viewed with such suspicion in the church in these past few years.

But such is the result when you think that the point of Christianity is winning a culture war rather than loving God and your neighbor. These are two quite different things.

But there is one more thing even more disturbing. It is inexcusable that a pastor of sheep wouldn’t be aware of this. Do you know what this article will do in abusive homes?

Do you know what will happen if we tell abusive and violent men that they must not weep with their wives and children if they do not have biblical reasons to weep?

To me, this is the most disturbing part of the whole thing. It is saying that I must determine if your tears are biblical before I can weep with you. The damage that this will cause will be immense. Wait for it…

Wisdom is justified by her children. So is foolishness.

I am afraid that this teaching will bear some very ugly children.

If we are secure in our righteousness before God, if we truly understand that we are complete in Christ already, then we can weep with those who weep without fear that we will somehow become tainted by their sin.

If Jesus waited until he had good and biblical reasons to weep with us, we would still be lost in our sins.

2 “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations,
3 “and say,`Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.
4 “As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.
5 “No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born.
6 “And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood,`Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood,`Live!’
7 “I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare.
8 “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord GOD.
9 “Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil.
10 “I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk.
11 “I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck.
12 “And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head.
13 “Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty.
14 “Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord GOD. (Ezek. 16:2-14)

Isn’t that beautiful. He doesn’t wait for his people to live before he gives them life. He doesn’t wait for them to be worthy of compassion before he has compassion.

Are we not to be tenderhearted, as God is tenderhearted? It seems we are missing something crucial about our faith.

12 Comments

Filed under Faith, Gospel, Grief, Hope

12 responses to “A Response to TGC on weeping

  1. Sam

    I can’t agree with either of you entirely. Abusers are usually emotional manipulators and are skilled at gaining sympathy. This is especially dangerous with female abusers since she is more readily believed to be the victim. While the suspicion towards compassion has me deeply concerned, it is true we never cast wisdom aside.
    Three days ago I would have been rolling my eyes at DeYoung’s idea of empathy, but I ran into a couple “advocates” who were were all Doug Wilson paints them as… I can’t say how much that grieved me to realize there are some toxic empathizers out there making us all look like blind fools who encourage any unhealthy behaviour that tempts a victim.

  2. I always agree with your posts, in whole! This one, though, has me perplexed. I tend to agree with Kevin DeYoung’s perspective on this, to a point. While, yes, we ought to weep with those who weep, are we to neglect these neighbors by only weeping alongside them? It could be construed as that if we don’t also love them as we love ourselves. It is only my opinion, but to truly love another as yourself is to weep with compassion at their trials, yet extend beyond that to give them clarity (if we can!) as Scripture reveals in most sin areas. This is not to be harsh with our neighbors, but to offer them hope in God’s promises. For example, to console a neighbor who has lost a child. Weep with them, be overcome with empathy and compassion; however, don’t let that be the end of your consolation for their heart. Pray upon the Scriptures that ensure God’s sovereignty over every detail, His promises to deliver us from times of trouble, and His faithfulness in all He decrees as truths. This extension, beyond a fellow weeping neighbor, is an opportunity to share (or repeat) the Gospel and deeply love our hurting neighbor. I’m hoping, perhaps, this was Kevin DeYoung’s intent🤞

  3. Samantha

    Thank you for this post. Christians have taken the role of the Holy Spirit upon themselves and have been lead to believe that it is their responsibility to point out everyone else’s sins. If we truly believe in a sovereign God, can we not follow Christ’s command to simply love our neighbor no matter what, show compassion and empathy to the hurting, and let God be God. Are we so full of pride that we believe we are the only way God can speak to others about their sin?
    I came out of an abusive marriage and the trend to view compassion and empathy through the lens of judgement is extremely frightening. I lived in a world where that was the norm for almost 40 years and I can attest to the emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical damage it causes.

  4. I think I’m with the responders who are somewhat in the middle. The dissing on empathy we’ve seen hasn’t been great and so I think it best to take Romans 12 in context there should be an instinctive assumption that we share in the joys and tears of our brothers and sisters. They are part of the body and so what they experience cannot but touch on us. At the same time the weeping and the rejoicing with suggests a response to something known. I don’t think this means we need to go digging to find out why someone is sad when that isn’t explicit but I do think that there will be a shared reaction to blessing and to evil with our brothers and sisters. As I think others have alluded to, something that KDY may draw our attention to us that in those situations where the weeping is from wrong reasons then in fact we are making a choice to weep with one and not rejoice with another. The issue in the Taliban example is that I should not be rejoicing with them but weeping with my Afghan brothers and sisters. And I think that’s something we find hard. We want to identify with and love others but sometimes those decisions require that choice.

  5. Anonymous

    You said that Jesus, “wept over Jerusalem, even though their destruction was just and good” but I wonder why he actually wept. His sorrow, perhaps, was along the extreme version of “it’s a pity” or “what a shame”?? Because burning in hell is for eternity, never to be reversed, never to end, and that sober thought should cause anyone to weep??

    This might be related and I’ve wondered about it, when Stephen was being murdered, and stoned to death, he wanted his murderers to be forgiven, if I recall correctly. Is that because he hoped they’d repent at some point? Why did he do that?

    • Anonymous

      Thinking about weeping, perhaps it is because it is Jerusalem?
      When Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of salt, isn’t it because she had pity for the evildoers in the city being destroyed, or that her heart was with them and thus looked back?
      Aren’t there Bible verses where we are told to not have pity on the wicked? What distinguishes wicked from mere sinners? Is repentance and regret about sinning the key?
      If anyone knows more and feels inclined to share the answers or their thoughts, by all means, please do.

  6. Bill Everson

    Thank you, Sam. Very helpful. I was unaware of the movement against those who weep… it saddens me.

    What comes immediately to my mind about DeYoung’s position, is the actions of Jobs’s friends.

    Job’s friends sat with him, in his distress, at first. They had compassion, and spoke it without words. Saying nothing.

    When they opened their mouths, and began probing to discern the roots of Job’s distress, to do exactly what DeYoung recommends, they SINNED.

    THAT should give us great pause.

    To me, the conduct of Job’s friends, is EXACTLY what DeYoung recommends. Is there not a PRESUMPTION here, that those suffering DESERVE it? Is our starting point to be one of judging others, or the GOSPEL OF GRACE?

    That’s a question too long to address in a reply.

    Very well written and helpful article.

    Thanks, Sam!

    Bill

    P.S. Of course there will always be sin at the root in someone’s suffering; and since we are all sinnners, and sin dwells in everyone of us, so of course, some who begin with a judgemental attitute toward others, will attribute our suffering to the sin that taints everyone.

    But that’s the error of the Pharisees, not the gospel JESUS spoke and lived.

    Sin is at the root of EVERY wrong that happens in this Creation; Adam sinned and so DEATH spread to all min and corrupted the whole of Creation.

    This is what the bible teaches, after all.

    But is it the whole truth the bible teaches? Or a partial, distorted truth that fits the Pharisees more than it fits JESUS?

    KNOWING that everyone IS a sinner, we know that there is sin in the person’s life… so we can find a correlation… and justify ourselves, just like the Pharisees did, just like Job’s friends did. Ahh-here it is-the CAUSE of Job’s suffering-HIS SIN….

    Ah, here it is, the blind man Jesus healed-well, he was a sinner from birth-we can ignore even HIS testimony that Jesus enabled him to SEE again! His SIN was proven by his blindness, so we can IGNORE what he says…

    Those who choose to follow the Pharisees, rather than Jesus, can JUSTIFY their critical, judgemental attitudes.. just like the Pharisees did, in the presence of God Incarnate Himself!

    So today, OF COURSE we can follow DeYoung (and others) and put our focus on fixing every one else’s problems; just like Job’s friends, did, just like the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day, and work at figuring out WHERE EVERYONE ELSE IS SINNING…which seems to be the primary mission of some-to FIND THE REASON EVERYONE ELSE IS NOT BEING FAITHFUL like THEY are. .

    BUT….

    Jesus shows us another way/ in HIS Life and example.

    I truly long to see A CHURCH that has the SAME focus that JESUS brought us in the good news that HE, the MESSIAH, has come, to offer HOPE to the poor, the sick, the captives and the oppressed. These are the people weeping as they walk through life, today….

    You’re welcome to edit out the P.S. for another discussion, if it distracts from the point of your article.
    Bill

  7. Andrew V

    So let’s choose a less extreme example, then:
    If our neighbors are gay and getting married, for which they are obviously rejoicing, should we rejoice with them?
    Seems to me you are offering and unqualified, “Yes.” In which case, we are rejoicing in sin and the defilement of God’s good gift.
    If I’m missing something, please explain what.

  8. Anu Riley

    Pastor did an amazing job with this post because of one HUGE thing that I think is being missed entirely:

    Even a “whiff or trace” of legalism, even IF it seems right, sounds right and (wait for it) IS Scripturally right, is dangerous and deadly and reeks of darkness. And you must get rid of any and all forms of legalism; it cannot and does not and will not function alongside the Holy Spirit. It will hinder, NOT help us abide, grow and bear His fruit.

    The 2 greatest commandments are like 2 sides of the same coin: Loving Him first will inevitably lead to loving humanity as He does. Loving humanity is impossible without loving Him first.

    Weeping and rejoicing with humanity is all about how you first and foremost THINK about humanity. If you want to be transformed into thinking like He does (which is NOTHING like how we think; see Isaiah 55:8), you must be willing to admit that human wisdom is nothing like His wisdom. You need to have a conscience that is “calibrated” to function according to Him.

    Urging the body of Christ to rejoice or weep with others for “good, biblical reason” opens a door to to set a dangerous precedent: finding loophole after loophole, closing doors and cutting off humanity from one another, If you dare to start thinking that way, you will always find SOME “loophole” to weep or not weep, rejoice with or not rejoice with each other.

    I’ll give an example from the movie City Slickers. Three male best friends asked each other: what is best and worst day of your life? The last one was known for dating a lot of women; it was jokingly assumed that would be his kind of best day.

    Best day: he’s a teenager and his parents are fighting again. His dad was a serial adulterer; this time the girl came by the house to pick him up! He realized his dad wasn’t just cheating on his mom, he was cheating on the entire family. He says to his dad: you’re bad to us, we don’t love you. I’ll take care of my mom and sister, we don’t need you. His dad left and never came back. But he took care of his family as promised. That’s his best day.

    What was his worst day? Same day.

    Do you weep or rejoice with him? His character was no saint himself, so do you feel a mixture of condescending pity or spiritual snobbery? Or do you compare and contrast this man with his father and decide to “weep” with him because his dad is supposedly the “bigger” sinner? Or do you rejoice with him because at least he turned out “better” than his own father?

    By the way compassion is NOT all about feeling sorry for people. Celebrating is NOT all about feeling happy for people! It is rooted in who you first and foremost believe and perceive humanity. It is about humanizing the human race; first and foremost recognizing their basic intrinsic worth that is not earned; it it an automatic given because humanity is made in His image.

    I am the only believer in my family. There are plenty of “loopholes” you could find to deny weeping with me at the pain it caused. Plenty also to be found in order to deny rejoicing with me. I forsook my own family in order to be in His family. It is a lot like my best and worst day of my life.

    Legalism is based on, driven by and frankly, revels and rejoices in FEAR. Not fear of the Lord. Fearing about how you will LOOK to yourself, to others. Fearful to be kind or even unkind to the “wrong” persons. Fearful of being on the wrong because that means you are possibly not “right” with God, at least not right “enough.” You need more rules, more boundaries, more ways to ensure you don’t weep or rejoice with the “wrong” persons.

    The “rejoicing with the Taliban” example seemed more like entrapment to me. I found it disturbing. I would neither rejoice nor weep with them. Even if a non-terrorist group took over, I would likely feel the same way. Their country is devastated, demoralized and destroyed on so many levels. You weep FOR dehumanization on every level. You rejoice in a God who SEES every level of dehumanization.

    Legalism is also driven by the fear of “what ifs.” What if this or that person is found to be lying about being victimized and I showed empathy? OR, empathized with the accused and he was found to be lying. What, so Christians never make a bad judgment call, never lack perfect discernment? Instead of crying out to Him to grow in Biblical discernment, you instead create a system “loopholes” to avoid future missteps. If a victim has a “checkered” past (whatever that looks like to you), no need for pity. If a black person is killed by authorities, and they were armed, no need for justice.

    I’ll close by giving an example from Star Trek TNG. The crew was infiltrated with an alien race that wiped their memories and installed a new “mission” to kill the enemy race of that alien’s race. Starfleet thrived on strict command and authority structure; they thought they had covered every loophole” to ensure success. But you cannot erase or “loophole away” the conscience. The crew did not “forget” what they were like on the inside. The race they were supposed to kill was vastly unmatched against the Enterprise’s weaponry. Picard said: I do not fire on defenseless people.

    His refusal finally exposed the farce they initially knew nothing about. Ever notice how the same type of thing tends to happen among the body of Christ? I’ve both engaged in and disengaged from legalism and I don’t know which one hurt the most, but I know which one to keep choosing.

  9. I really appreciate your thoughts on this. I’ve been so troubled by what’s been coming out of “reformed” circles.
    Kevin De Young recently had a podcast episode on abuse and I kept thinking I was picking up on borderline anger towards victims. Then I read about his article on weeping. It makes a lot of sense. I think you were wise to point out the culture wars. And it’s sad.
    There’s also a big issue with either/or thinking- so either we weep and empathize or we rationalize and confront. It’s just not true. We can sit with the hurting and confront if necessary- at the proper time. We can hold intro truth and enter into suffering. And just because some advocates advocate in an unhelpful way, doesn’t mean empathy is to blame.
    Thank you for continuously pointing back to the heart of the Lord!

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