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Tears in a Bottle: The Uniquely Human Phenomenon of Crying

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two"> Crying—the shedding of tears—has physiological, anthropological, and psychological components. It also has a spiritual component. Read on to find out why the ability to cry is a precious gift from God.

The physiology of tears

statue crying tears Tears are produced by the lachrymal gland. The salt they contain acts as a lubricant; without the moisture provided by tears, our eyeballs would scrape painfully on the insides of our eyelids. (The labels of eye drop and contact lens products show that they usually contain salt.) Tears also contain a mild germicide, lysozyme, which kills bacteria and other potentially harmful microbes.

Most higher animals—those that live in an aerobic (oxygen-containing) environment—produce tears to keep their eyes moist. Constant tears are produced to lubricate the eye at all times; reflex tears arise in response to irritation or injury.

The psychology of tears

Emotional tears are stimulated by happy, sad, or other strong feelings. They eliminate a stress hormone.

While most animals cry tears of physical cause, human beings are the only creatures that cry emotional tears. Charles Darwin said that weeping is “one of the special expressions of man.” (Please see endnote.)

Interestingly, children do not cry at happy endings; the understanding of the fleeting, fragile nature of human happiness comes only with a degree of emotional maturity.

Ancient thoughts about tears

Long ago, in the Eastern part of the world, it was customary for mourners to catch their tears in bottles and place them at the tombs of their loved ones as a visual measure of their grief. Ancient Greeks buried their dead with lacrimatories, vials full of mourners’ tears.

The ancient Greek doctors thought tears originated directly from the brain.

Leonardo daVinci (1452-1519)—famous even in his own time as a master painter, sculptor, architect, musician, engineer, scientist, and inventor—created drawings of the inner workings of the human body that are accurate down to the smallest detail. Yet in one of his drawings he shows a tube going from the tear ducts…to the heart.

These old “anatomically incorrect” depictions of the human crying mechanism, however unscientific, reveal something of the mystical nature of tears attributed to them by societies’ most educated individuals.

The Bible on tears

Consider the psalmist David’s prayer in time of distress: “I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears. My eye wastes away because of grief; It grows old because of all my enemies.” Now compare that (Psalm 6:6), with Psalm 56:8—“You…[p]ut my tears in Your bottle; Are they not in Your book?”

David believed that God was keeping track of each individual teardrop in the rivers he cried.

Scientific corroboration of the special properties of human tears

Science has discovered that each tear—just as every snowflake and every fingerprint—is unique. That is, unique in the pure sense of the word—one of a kind.

Put this discovery together with the psalmist’s thoughts. All the suffering billions of people currently populating the earth, and those already departed, multiplied by the countless tears one can cry in a lifetime…gives us a virtually infinite number of tears, each unique, each saved in a bottle, not one unnoticed by God.

That’s because when we cry, God hears. He may not give us answers; we may not even feel His presence. But there He is, collecting each of our tears in a bottle. That’s a vivid illustration of the special—yes, unique—place of humankind in the realm of living things.


Incidentally, Charles Darwin is not the villain as traditionally portrayed in the ongoing battle between evolutionists and creationists. Most of the humanistic, Godless ideas attributed to his belief system were added by others who came later.

About The Author
Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance writer with a specialty in business and marketing communications. She holds a biology degree and has worked in a variety of fields, including the pharmaceutical industry and teaching, and has a particular interest in both science and Biblical tradition. She is also a graduate of American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI), America’s leading course on copywriting. Contact Lisa J. Lehr Copywriting, for help with your business writing needs.

This article ©Lisa J. Lehr 2005.

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