Now I have.
With my tearful little ones gathered around their mother, we remembered together all the smiles and laughter Kimi gave us. And then we thanked Jesus for giving us Kimi.
(Walking back to the house, my wife said it reminded her a little bit of Cliff Huxtable and the fish, and I said I had been thinking more about the graveside for Beans in Cheaper by the Dozen.)
I had decided to do the committal as I collected the body from the highway because it seemed like it would be a helpful step for the kids.
As I dug the grave, thoughts swirled through my head, mainly about what I would say to them. I hadn’t seen them yet; Nichole had told them what happened. I was trying to get everything cleaned up and settled as quickly as possible, before they came out of the house.
There in the hard Alabama clay, under the hot Alabama sun, I dug – deep in the dirt, and deep in my mind. I tested the old phrase, “All dogs go to heaven.” I remembered Revelation 22:15 that says dogs can’t go to heaven. (I know it’s a different kind of dog.) Then I recalled watching an old preacher test a young, aspiring preacher with the most difficult theological question I’ve ever heard.
He said, “Imagine you’re a pastor, and one Sunday morning a ten-year-old boy comes up to you to tell you that his little dog just died. Then he asks you if his dog will be in heaven. What do you say?”
Honestly, I don’t remember the answer to the question. What I remember is learning that not every question seeks a theological answer. As I’ve grown in age and experience, I’ve become convinced that precious few questions seek a theological answer. People who ask questions about the Bible or God are almost never seeking the correct answer.
Is that a cynical statement? I don’t think so.
“What I really want to know…”
When a ten-year-old boy asks about the eternal destiny of his dog, he doesn’t care about the role of man as the Imago Dei or the beliefs of Traducianism. He misses his dog and wants someone to reassure him that he’ll see his dog again. He wants to believe that the pain he feels right now won’t last forever.
When a teenager asks about the fate of those who’ve never heard the Gospel, she’s not asking for a discourse on total depravity or the errors of universalism. She’s trying to hold on to her faith, because she just had a conversation in the high school cafeteria with a friend who said he couldn’t believe in a God who treats people unfairly. She wants to believe in God without being embarrassed in front of her peers.
When a mother of three asks which translation of the Bible to use, she’s not interested in textual variants or the Lucian recension. She’s heard Christians hurl insults towards other Christians over this very issue and just wants a peaceful place – far from the battlefield – where she can read and teach her children the Scriptures. She wants to know that she can read God’s Word, and she’s afraid that someone smarter than her will undermine her confidence. Or force her to read it in a tongue she doesn’t understand.
When a college student asks what the Bible says about homosexuality, he’s not looking for an exegesis of Romans 1 or the distinction between orientation and practice. He’s concerned for his gay friend’s salvation; he’s afraid of giving an un-enlightened answer in front of his peers; he’s confused because his teachers seem to be disagreeing with his parents; or perhaps he’s struggling with homosexual attraction himself. He wants clarity in the midst of chaos.
When a man asks about divorce and remarriage, he’s probably not just curious. He may be facing issues at home. Or his sister, who’s been raising two kids by herself, wants to start dating again. Or a coworker is seeking his advice, and he wants to give a good witness.
When a woman asks about the fate of suicide victims, she might be having nightmares. Or carrying the baggage of religious legalism. Or struggling with depression. Or worrying that God might not forgive her for something she’s done. She wants to know that God loves her, that Jesus saves, and that his grace is greater than our sin.
Enter the Answer People
Most people could not care less how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But if they ask, they’re looking for more than just a number.
Some of us know the number because we thought it important enough to find out, and it is not irrelevant just because no one cares. Those few of us who spend our days and nights searching out the deep things of God, exegeting the Scriptures, dialoguing our theologies, synthesizing our conclusions, debating our findings, and asking questions that interest no one else – we have a role to play. We are the learners and teachers of doctrine, doctrine that supports counsel. And that’s what people really want.
This doesn’t mean that the Bible isn’t worth studying if all people want is advice. It means that the only advice worth giving is the kind that is built upon the solid foundation of Scripture’s teaching. But we are fools to think that dogma heals when people are asking for a doctor.
That’s why we who are the learners must become the listeners. Listen to the question, but listen to the person who is asking. What do they want? What do they need? What can we give them?
The Helpful Answer
We can give them nothing, if we can’t give them Christ.
That’s why I stood at the head of the grave of our late dog and pointed my kids to Jesus. My own ten-year-old boy didn’t ask if Kimi was in heaven (Thank you, Lord), but he dealt with it in his own way. As did the others.
One retreated to the bedroom in tears. One sat down to draw happy pictures of both the dog and cat. One just went over to the toy box, but then couldn’t stop talking about the dog for the rest of the evening. They all dealt with it differently.
People do this. People find different ways of wrestling with life, ways that fit them in their situation. They will eventually wrestle their way to a question, a question they will eventually ask.
We who know the Lord and his Word will hear it. But we must remember that most often, they’re not asking for our heads.
They’re asking for His heart.