After fifteen years of loyal companionship, a beloved pet gets sick. The vet can’t do anything but assure the animal of a painless death. For the pet owner, the loss is devastating. A “best friend” is gone.
The pain is often compounded by people who just don’t understand. “Get another one!” they say cheerily, as if this unique relationship could ever be duplicated. It’s further compounded by an uncertainty about what happens next. Is there a heaven for pets? Will we ever see our beloved animals again?
Everyone wants to say yes. We would love to comfort grieving pet owners by assuring them of a future reunion, but is this really true? A number of writers and philosophers have weighed in on the question, but in this blog we’re most concerned about what the Bible says. Does Scripture teach about a heaven for pets?
First we should consider what we mean by “heaven.” In the Bible we find three main understandings. It’s (a) where God lives, it’s (b) where the faithful go when they die, and (c) it’s the future “kingdom of God,” the eternal culmination of human history. These concepts overlap to some extent, but some scholars sharply divide them. The Bible says a lot about C, less about A and B. (Perhaps the presence of God is all we really need.).
One major concern for some Bible teachers is that “pet heaven” might water down our idea of “human heaven.” If people need to trust Christ in order to get to heaven, what do animals need to do?
With that said, there is a surprising amount of biblical evidence about God’s dealings with animals and their involvement in his coming kingdom.
In creation, God explicitly gave humans authority over fish, birds, and animals (Genesis 1:28), and the first man named the animals (Genesis 2:19-20). After the first sin, God uttered a curse that included the earth itself and its livestock (Genesis 3:14,17). After the flood, God established a covenant not only with Noah, but with “all living beings” (Genesis 9:9-10). It’s also notable that the Ten Commandments include animals in the law against working on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10).
The Psalms frequently include animals in their songs of praise, along with forests, mountains, and heavenly bodies (see Psalms 145:10-21 and 148:10). There’s also this stunning phrase: “You save humans and animals alike, O Lord” (Psalms 36:6 NRSV). Some versions replace save with “preserve” or “care for,” but the Hebrew word (yasa) is usually translated “save.” What does that mean in this case?
The prophet Isaiah foresaw an age in which “wolves and sheep will live together in peace” because the earth would be “full of the knowledge of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:6-9). A later passage described the same scene in the “new earth and new heavens” that God would be making (Isaiah 65:17, 25). The language is, admittedly, poetic, but these prophecies suggest that animals will be right at home in God’s future kingdom—and that perhaps they even participate in “the knowledge of the Lord.”
We find an overview in the book of Romans, where the apostle Paul describes “all of creation” groaning in its “eager longing” for God’s plans to come to fruition. Just as the earth and its animals shared in the Curse, so they will “share the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-22).
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, preached on this passage and asserted that, in this final redemption, animals would “be restored, not only to the vigor, strength, and swiftness which they had at their creation, but to a far higher degree of each than they ever enjoyed. . . . The liberty they then had will be completely restored, and they will be free in all their motions. They will be delivered from all irregular appetites, from all unruly passions, from every disposition that is either evil in itself, or has any tendency to evil” (Sermon 60).
The New Testament frequently mentions this vision of a future restoration, in which God will make “all things” new (Acts 3:19-21; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 3:20-21; Revelation 21:5). Animals are certainly part of that re-creation. As Martin Luther reportedly wondered, “Why then should there not be little dogs in the new earth?” John Calvin expected that all creatures “according to their nature, shall be participators of a better condition,” and yet he worried about too much speculation in that matter.
That’s a helpful caution. What do we know from Scripture, and what are we speculating?
- For one thing, while the Creator values all his creatures, there is no sense that animals are equivalent to humans. God clearly gave humans the leading role.
- Yet in the mega-story of human history, the fate of all creation—including animals—is tied up with that of humans. We all suffer from sin, and we all await redemption.
- There are hints—but only hints—that animals have some sort of “knowledge” of the Creator.
- Animals in general will be part of the restoration of all things in God’s “new earth and new heaven.” Does this mean your pet will be there? We simply don’t know.
Christian writer C. S. Lewis floated an interesting theory in The Problem of Pain, suggesting that some animals will get to heaven on the coattails of their masters. That is, just as we enter a relationship with God because we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), so our pets might be in us—they acquire “selfhood” through us, and thus might have “an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters.” In a later letter, Lewis added, “Of course we can only guess and wonder.”
And that’s where we have to leave it. The central message of the Bible is about human beings. We are called into a relationship with God and a glorious eternity in his presence. But God’s goodness overflows. The redemption of humans brings benefits to all creation. Is it possible that a loving Creator would have a special place in his heart for the creature you love, the one that has faithfully served you? Yes, it’s very possible.
Scripture from Good News Translation, except where noted.
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