My Eye Weeps to God By David A. Goodman, Ph.D. This is an article written by a friend David Goodman. He has been a neuroscientist for fifty years and is a believer. The perspective is unusual, but we thought there may be some interest in what he has to say. It is about the neuroscience and the theology of tears.
My Eye Weeps to God By David A. Goodman, Ph.D.
Three years…night and day…with tears
-Paul. Acts 20
The question first asked and answered in the Bible nearly thirty-five hundred years ago by Job is “Why do men weep?” In wholesome good health, men don’t commit random violence. Increasingly, the brain research community is concluding that violent behavior is a disease and that the solution is not coming from clinical chemistry; but requires a profound change in the heart of man. In my own studies, I found that when men confess and tearfully repent, they can begin to overcome the disease of violence.
Violence is a disease. It is a disease that can be linked the frontal lobes, the hypothalamus and related structures, and to the male hormone testosterone. The less well-developed the brain for self-control, the greater the amount of testosterone, the greater the male potential for violence. The disease erupts during puberty, a time of jumbled brain circuits, and a hundred-fold increase in male hormone. In less enlightened times, cures for violence were brain surgery, usually frontal lobotomy, or a surgical castration, removal of the male’s testes.
Extending the analogy, violence is a disease whose manifestations are craving for a weapon and threatening innocent people. It leads to packs of predators uttering four-letter words, another symptom of the disease. It is prompted by a cultural failure to limit their access to guns, narcotic chemicals, and a media infatuated by a blood lust. No wonder administrators of cities stricken by violence turn to us medical scientists for a non-surgical treatment for youth violence.
In the early-1960s when my career began, colleagues believed that the wave of the future was drugs to curb violence. Marijuana that lowered male testosterone was an ideal candidate. It was taught that marijuana made is users “mellow” and never led to more potent intoxicants like cocaine. The tranquilizers were a second category of drugs that was supposed to make the user quietly serene and peaceful. How doubly ironic then that forty years later, today youth use a marijuana that is eight times more potent than it was twenty years ago. And the court docket is filled with suits that tranquilizers can actually increase violence.
The Bible seemed an unlikely source for a violence treatment. As a child growing up in the 1950s, I looked with disquiet on the vengeful Old Testament God, and the shrill cries from blood sacrifice filling the Temple courtyard. And yet I remember too a counter-tradition in the Old Testament, that of hesed. God shows his people mercy, justice and lovingkindness. The hesed tradition is David’s in the Psalms. My favorite is Psalm 51, when David repents after his sin with Bathsheba. His sacrifice to God is confession of his sin, humbling himself and the profuse shedding of repentant tears.
As an adult reading the New Testament, I observed how confession of sin and the shedding of repentant tears are a key to the teachings of John th Baptist. John is often seen as messenger or forerunner to Christ, and a wild man returned from the dessert. If so, why do the powerful men in Jerusalem, the politicians, lawyers, tax-gatherers and soldiers listen to this crazy man? Why do they agree to be baptized and repent for their ways?
Bible scholar Harvey Falk proposed the thesis of two Pharisees. That the Pharisees in power when John returned from the dessert differed in significant ways from the Temple Pharisees of John’s youth. The Pharisees of twenty years earlier were of the school of Hillel, teacher of the hesed Judaism.
The hesed teachings of justice, mercy and lovingkindness trace to Moses at Sinai, to David in the Psalms, to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Hosea, to the teachings of prophets predating the Babylonian captivity. A shift in power 10 A. D. dislodged in power some followers of Hillel (though his grandson Gamaliel survived). It was the leadership of men lacking in compassion, generosity and mercy against whom John ranted, calling them the “offspring of vipers.”
John is castigating the priestly class whose power grows from Aarons’s rod. They have departed from the traditional hesed ways. Their perceived lack of compassion, generosity and kindness towards the poor alienated the public from them. After a generation of their laws, Jerusalem citizens were predisposed to the teachings of John who demanded the leadership revert back to the traditional ways. In John’s stirring call, “Repent!.” In the two thousand years since John, few scientists have studies what are the biomedical changes when a man walks tearfully with the Lord.
In 1978 I was asked to devise an experiment for men high in the male hormone testosterone. I assumed their toughness and arrogance were based in part on their inability to cry. By teachings them confession and the value of tears, therapists on our team worked with eighteen male subjects for a year. A neurologist monitored their vital signs, and I was responsible for laboratory evaluation of thirteen blood chemicals including three adrenal stress hormones, growth hormone, and testosterone.
We found a significant, twelve percent decrease in average blood pressure in the men able to weep. Their pulse rate fell, and by all available measures, their stress levels fell. Measuring the three adrenal stress hormones we observed an average decline in value of about 35 percent. Blood levels of growth hormone rose. Most importantly, we observed how after a half year of weeping therapy,in the five strongest and toughest men their titer of the male hormone testosterone in their blood plasma fell from about 900 units to 630 units, a statistically significant decline.
In addition, the men reported less violent and abusive thoughts. Angers dissipated easily due to their access to tears. Children and women benefitted from the men’s new empathy they attributed to the ability to weep tears. Of the males who pursued frenetic careers in engineering and in business, some wished to turn to less competitive pursuits. There was a rise in environmental concerns mirrored by interest in horticulture. And a desire to help others by becoming therapists.
Their improvement was due to the abundant shedding of tears because few healthful biomedical changes took place until the men broke down and wept uncontrollably. This very human phenomenon of the profuse shedding of tears due to loneliness, guilt, remorse and sorrow, has been recently described as “crying that heals.”
Returning to the Bible, the Scriptures are drenched in tears of repentance. King Hezekiah confessed, turned his face towards the wall and wept. God granted him fifteen more years of life. Jeremiah who appears to be the author of the Book of Lamentations, spoke of God as the “fountain of living waters,” an inner baptism. David repented, and God saved tears in a bottle.
Looking at the men in weeping therapy vulnerable to their feelings like little children, the New Testament teachings of John, Jesus and Apostle Paul come to mind. For example, we know how often Jesus wept in empathy. Consider too the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, especially the Beatitudes. Did not Jesus bless the meek, those who mourn and the children often bathed in tears. And in dinner with the Pharisees did not Jesus minister to the sinner who repented at his feet while she wept heartfelt tears?
Paul too preached the gospel of repentance. His “way of the Lord” made tears central to his mission to the gentiles. Read the twentieth chapter of acts. Paul taking leave of Ephesus after visits lasting three years recollects his teachings. He brought the Messianic message, yes; but as much or more of the hesed tradition of David. Isaiah, Jeremiah and other early Old Testament prophets. In their self-sacrifice, their brotherly confession, and shedding of manly tears, the Ephesian converts wept to God, and to reduce violence in their hearts. When Paul announced that he was leaving for Jerusalem, the brethren knelt down and prayed, embraced Paul, wept aloud and repeatedly kissed him.
That Paul had wept day and night for three years we need not dismiss as hyperbole. The Jews of antiquity wept and wailed. In Psalm 126, David instructs us to sow in tears and return later to reap the sheaves with joyful shouting. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears that I may weep day and night.” It was a cherished wish when Paul in Ephesus claimed that he wept day and night for three years.
The abundance of tears of the men in therapy was foresaged by David when he was a troop commander. He and his men returned to Ziklag to find the city burned and their wives and children taken captive by the Amelekites. The Bible reports that they wept until they could weep no more. David’s men compare to our men, some of whom wept almost every day, their teary sessions lasting an hour or more, agonizing over personal loss although less extreme than the losses of David and his troops at Ziklag.
Notice how we have here a scientific hypothesis. Manly men, especially those returning from combat experience grief, loss and stress occurring after the trauma of war need to weep. Other men can weep from melancholia. Men in confession weep for their loneliness, pain they inflicted on others, and how are sorrowful over past deeds. In allusion to the prophet Micah and to Jesus, after confession, hearts are broken and spirits made contrite. Crying that heals is heartfelt. Prodigious shedding of tears passes the emotions from death back into life, away from past memories of rejection and pain into new life that Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven within.
I propose a new Bible-based therapy to meliorate symptoms of the disease of violence. It can be called dacrystic after the Greek word for the shedding of tears. It proposes to sooth the savage inner beast through agonized weeping and the release of healing hormones. After agonized weeping, men claim they become more just and merciful, more caring in the presence of children and women. Indeed, closer ties with family and friends can save a man’s life should he contemplate suicide. Indeed, tears from sorrow and regret can pierce the veil separating a man from his inner self, opening him up to the new spirit of the kingdom of joy within.
How far is dacrystic therapy from the therapeutic mainstream? Yes, weeping as medicine is discussed widely in nursing and theological circles. Yet I find it of interest that today, 3,500 years from Job, three millenia since King David, one thousand nine hundred sixty odd years from the Sermon on the Mount, we can observe how popular pharmaceuticals prescribed by physicians to treat violent tendencies, without exception they suppress man’s unique godly ability to weep.
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