A few weeks ago, Bobby died. It happened quite quickly. On Thursday, he was sitting merrily on his perch. On Friday, he was shivering and looking pretty unimpressed with life. On Saturday morning, he was standing on the floor of the cage with his eyes half open, rocking back and forth. At lunchtime, when the kids and I took him to the vet, he had decided it would be best to have a little lie down. The vet was kind, but decisive.
We took Bobby home in a very small plastic bag. There were tears. My wife’s former history teacher (that’s a whole other story) dug a hole in the backyard, and another friend of ours found a little mournful-looking stone dog to act as headstone. Family, friends and the former history teacher prayed together that God would comfort us in our loss.
Then came the inevitable question from the 6-year-old: “Is Bobby in heaven now?” Hmm. I know that there will be a new, physical creation (Isa 65:17), and it seems like the new creation will contain, at the very least, contented wolves, baby sheep, lions, cattle and humiliated snakes (Isa 65:25). But will there be a spiritual continuity of identity between the Bobby we knew and a particular budgie in the hereafter? There didn’t seem to be enough biblical data to form a meaningful answer. So I answered as I only could: “The Bible doesn’t say”.
This answer seemed to provide a surprisingly high level of comfort to our six-year-old. The phrase “The Bible doesn’t say” was repeated as a mantra for the next few days as a way of coming to terms with the terrible events of the weekend. (Buying Billy the Budgie as a replacement also helped to alleviate the grief somewhat.)
Why was that phrase “The Bible doesn’t say” so comforting? Perhaps it’s because of what it implies. Non-Christian friends of ours, when faced with theological questions about God, heaven and hell, seem to feel a panicked sense of being out of their depth, and tend to make up whatever answer seems best to them, or whatever will make their kids feel better and stop all those difficult questions.
But when we say to our kids “The Bible doesn’t say”, there is actually an underlying subtext: “Mum and Dad don’t know everything, but that’s okay. God has it under control. Trust him. We don’t have to make it up. Anything that God wants us to know, he’s told us in the Bible. If we can’t work it out from the Bible, then clearly it’s not important for us to know.”
“The Bible doesn’t say” is actually a way of affirming that God has spoken clearly and decisively on the important issues, and that there is an authority beyond our own theological musings. If we need to know it, God has told us. And we’ll leave the rest up to him.