Question: "What does it mean that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh (Ecclesiastes 3:4)?"
Answer: “A time to weep and a time to laugh” is one of fourteen couplets of contrasting times and seasons of life depicted by King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3:1–8. Within these statements, Solomon condensed every human “activity under the heavens” (verse 1), concluding that there is a God-appointed time for each moment and that the Lord is ultimately in control over them all.
Extreme emotional seasons are the focus of Solomon’s observation that “there is a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Sorrow and happiness, crying and rejoicing, mourning and merriment are all part of life. Feelings of disappointment, loss, and rejection are inevitable. More than once, Jesus Himself was overcome with sorrow to the point of weeping (John 11:32; Luke 19:41). If we live very long, we’ll eventually endure times when we want to say, like the psalmist, “My tears have been my food day and night” (Psalm 42:3). Conversely, we will experience seasons of joy and laughter. King David acknowledged that “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
In Romans 12:9–21, the apostle Paul taught that the mark of a true Christian is sincere love demonstrated through sacrifice and service toward fellow believers. Paul seemed to have had Ecclesiastes 3:4 in mind when he urged believers, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, NLT). When we identify with one another in our joys and sorrows, weeping and laughing together at the appropriate times, we prove the authenticity of our heartfelt affection and love. Instead of distancing ourselves from the emotional experiences of others, genuine love motivates us to weep freely, to laugh out loud, to sing and dance, to enter deeply into their experiences, and to feel solidarity with those we care about, regardless of their mood.
In Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, He informed His disciples, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21). Poverty, hunger, persecution, insult, denial, hatred, and being falsely accused were some of the miserable conditions the Lord’s closest followers faced during their sojourn on earth. Our loyalty to Jesus in this world is sure to cause us to weep now (Matthew 5:3–11). But Christ encourages us to “rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12).
In John 16:20, Jesus promised His faithful ones, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” As Christians, we can expect to face some of the harshest circumstances imaginable in this world. But eternal life with Jesus awaits. We may weep now as the world rejoices, but we will laugh and celebrate with the Lord for all eternity.
While we live in this fallen world, “a time to weep” is an inevitable part of the ongoing cycle of life. But we do well to remember that God is with us through every painful moment, working out His good purposes (Romans 8:28). Moreover, eternity holds the Lord’s marvelous promise: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). In eternity, the “time to weep” will be over, and “a time to laugh” will be our blessed reward.