Several years ago, singer and songwriter Billy Joel created some controversy with a song he wrote, called “Only the Good Die Young.” The song was about a young man trying to convince a young catholic girl to give up her virginity. Many were offended by some of the lyrics, and by the general tone of the song, which was sacrilegious; sneering at the notion of sexual purity and waiting for marriage. One of the lines in the song says, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints..The sinners are much more fun.”
It may seem that way to many– Christians (along with many Jews, Muslims, and others who are sincere and spiritually-minded) seem stern and sober in comparison to free-living, fun-loving heathens. Why should this be so? Shouldn’t those who are closer to God experience more Joy and happiness than those who do not know Him? Why are saints and prophets so often shown crying, wailing, and weeping bitter tears?
The author of Ecclesiastes (assumed to be King Solomon) writes:
Ecclesiastes 7:1-6 (Revised Standard Version)
7 A good name is better than precious ointment;
and the day of death, than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting;
for this is the end of all men,
and the living will lay it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning;
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
than to hear the song of fools.
6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
so is the laughter of the fools;
this also is vanity.
This doesn’t mean that God wants His people to be depressed, hopeless, and constantly weeping. But God DOES want us to be aware and to see the world as it really is– fallen, chaotic, filled with needless suffering and injustice. Why? Because He calls us to think about the consequences of our actions, and also to have compassion for those who are hurting. It may be more “fun” to ignore the consequences of sin and to “live it up” if you are young and healthy, but it is not at all true that “only the good die young.” Death comes unexpectedly and randomly– taking both good and evil, both wise and foolish. The difference is that fools get cut off and caught off-guard. The consequences of their actions find them unprepared and filled with regret or bitterness and pain– all of which might have been prevented if they had not ignored reality.
I think the song DOES have a message to Christians–while we shouldn’t be fools chasing after fleeting pleasures that leave a large wake of pain and regret and filling our lives with empty laughter, we should not “die young” in the way of the Pharisees of old. Jesus called them “white-washed tombs” for good reason. Their “goodness” came from self-righteousness and piety. They shunned sinners, and chased others away with their long lists of rules and disdain for anyone who didn’t keep up appearances. Such “saints” never cry– they are more likely to crow about their own “goodness” with dry eyes and closed fists. Jesus attended feasts and parties with the sinners– but his heart was not for the “fun” they were having. It was for them– for their lost souls. Jesus wept! Jesus wept for the loss of his friend Lazarus; he wept over Jerusalem; he even wept tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane!
The “Good” have many reasons to cry– millions of innocents suffer needlessly every day–abuse, slavery, genocide, abortion, bigotry, war, starvation, murder, theft, addiction, homelessness, disease, natural disasters, man-made disasters, and more fill our world. People waste time angrily shaking their fists at Heaven or at governments, but so much of the suffering is a direct result of sinful actions on the parts of individuals. In my own country, in my own lifetime, over 50,000,000 babies have been aborted–without legal consequence, but with a terrible consequence on the soul of our nation. If we could shed one tear for each life lost it would equal over 660 gallons of water (here’s how I got that number )– just one tear for each life, and those are only the abortions that have been recorded in the past 45 years in the U.S. If we were to shed a tear for every broken marriage, every rape, every life lost to addiction, suicide, murder, or war, every violent assault, every broken promise, every lie, or every corrupt deed in our world over the past 50 years, we could fill an ocean! The power of tears, or of any running/falling water is so great, it could generate electricity to light the nations! ( Here’s an interesting article on the power of a drop of water!)
I would far rather “cry with the saints.” But more than that, I would rather pray with the saints, and arise from both to work with the saints–the power of tears pales in comparison with the power of God’s mercy and grace!