Sunday, August 1, 2010

Heaven: Will Pets Be There?

The ongoing debate ... "Do our pets go to heaven?

In my family, that has always been a "for sure thing."  Our logic: How can such a loving creature not have a soul and not be deserving of a place in heaven?"

Maybe you saw the recent "debate" via signs between a Catholic and a Presbyterian Church.  It was a popular item that got passed around the Internet.  Here are two from the series:

The "heated" debate ended with Beulah Presbyterian asserting: "Dogs are animals.  There aren't any rocks in heaven either."  The Catholic church fired back with "All rocks go to heaven."

This question ... well, "settled fact" for me ... comes to mind in the wake of my mother having to put her dog down yesterday.  Sadly, it was just 3 months ago that she had to put another dog down.  She has lost two beloved dogs in such short time.  The first dog was quite old and had been ailing for some time.  It was expected.  But yesterday was a shock.  Toby, a 95-lb "American All-Breed" had blown out a knee about a week ago.  He had torn a ligament in one knee chasing after a squirrel.  Mom had him scheduled for a $2,000 knee operation this coming Friday, both of them facing 16 weeks of recovery and rehab.  But, then on Friday he blew out the other knee.  There would be no way Toby could make a come back from that.  So, sadly my mother had to make the grim decision to put down an otherwise healthy 6 year old dog -- still so full of life and love. So unexpected.  So painful.  Now my mom struggles with a silent home with no cold-nosed, tail-wagging greetings.

Last night, against my better judgment, I did some surfing around on the Internet looking for those tear-jerking, mushy thoughts about dogs.  I'd had a crying-induced headache all day, but still I looked around.  While doing so, I am still able to look down at my chocolate-covered, fur-faced "love bug."  I experienced a few tinges of guilt, wanting to kill her the other day I had gotten so angry.  Now, my heart was melting as I focused on how loving she is and how quick to anger I am.

But, I digress ...

So, I searched around the Internet looking for Scripture as well as sentimental anecdotes.  Most theology-based sites gave a nod towards animals entering heaven.  One heartlessly said "no."  One particularly negative site said basically that, if a pet goes to heaven, its human must be going, too, but that they're aren't that many people going to heaven in the first place.  OUCH!

Naturally, I preferred the "yays" to the "nays."  Here's a nice one I found at Christianity Today.  A parent had written saying: "Our beloved dog died recently.  Should I correct my kids when they say they can't wait to play with Rocky again in heaven?"  Randy Alcorn gave a tender-hearted reply.  Here is an excerpt:
We know animals will be on the New Earth, which is a redeemed and restored old Earth, in which animals had a prominent role. People will be resurrected to inhabit this world. Romans 8:21–23 assumes animals as part of a suffering creation eagerly awaiting deliverance through humanity's resurrection. This seems to require that some animals who lived, suffered, and died on the old Earth must be made whole on the New Earth. Wouldn't some of those likely be our pets?

In her excellent book, Holiness in Hidden Places, Joni Eareckson Tada says, "If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn't surprise me. It would be just like him. It would be totally in keeping with his generous character … Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant in grace after grace. Of all the dazzling discoveries and ecstatic pleasures heaven will hold for us, the potential of seeing Scrappy would be pure whimsy—utterly, joyfully, surprisingly superfluous. … Heaven is going to be a place that will refract and reflect in as many ways as possible the goodness of joy of our great God, who delights in lavishing love on his children."

In a poem about the world to come, theologian John Piper writes:
And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast
As she could come. She leaped the stream—
Almost—and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye. I knelt to drink
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy. And everywhere
I turned I saw a wonder there.
We needn't be embararassed either to grieve the loss of our pets or to want to see them again. If we believe God is their creator, that he loves us and them, that he intends to restore his creatures from the bondage they experienced because of our sin, then we have biblical grounds for not only wanting but also expecting that we may be with them again on the New Earth.
Dogs are the one animal, I believe, that are truly velcroed to humans, feeling and sharing their humans' needs.  There have been times when I've experienced a dog detecting my feelings.  When I was separated and going through the agony of deciding whether to continue with the marriage or to divorce, one afternoon I was sitting in the living room and started to silently cry.  My dog, who was asleep in the bedroom, suddenly appeared before me with the saddest expression.  She laid her head in my lap and stayed with me.  It is a true friend who sits with you and grieves.  I always refer to that dog as my "psychologist" dog.  She was so tender-hearted ... my 80-lb. "killer dog" Dobermann was actually a "sheep in wolf's clothing."

A few years ago I had two major operations six months apart.  My current dog was my "physical therapist" during that time.  She is a 70 pound crazy dog.  As I was preparing for surgery, I was worried she might hurt me with her powerful, over-the-top exuberance.  But, with the first surgery, she instantly knew I was "hurt" and became docile and tender.  Six months later when I had hip surgery, I still clearly recall the look on her face as she watched me stand up from my chair with crutches -- it was one of surprise and shock, a kind of Piglet "Oh, dear!  Such a big world for such a small animal!" reaction.

During the first week as I teeter-tottered down the hall on crutches one day, I heard her come scrambling behind me.  I feared she would knock me down, there having been many times pre-surgery when she would knock into me as she bounded past me down the hall.  But this time, as she reached me and I cringed, she instantly stopped and heeled in perfect position at my knee (something she had always defiantly refused to do) -- head submissively down and walking slowly at my pace.  I was absolutely shocked!  I thought: "OK, someone stole my dog and replaced her with a super obedient one."  I still marvel at how adeptly and obediently she learned new routines to accommodate my temporary incapacities -- routines that still have pay-offs today.

I have decided that dogs are "zedek": a Hebrew word meaning "righteous" and "as God intended."   All of nature is "zedek", except for us humans due to out sinful, rebellious nature.  I can get so furious with Wild Dog, but I have to remember she is "zedek" -- she's just being what she's designed to be.  It's my ideals I'm molding her to.  The noble "zedek" dog willingly molds itself to the human's will.  Many times when I head to church, I will tell Wild Dog: "Mommy's gotta go to church.  I'm not 'zedek' like you are."

Dogs are amazing.  Think of them in all their capacities and roles: herding, guarding, police work, bomb sniffing, drug detection, companions for the handicapped, therapy dogs for ailing seniors and wounded soldiers ... We have all heard and marveled at their amazing stories of devotion and heroism.

How can an animal so in tune with and so devoted to humans not have a soul?


  1. According to St. Thomas Aquinas (and I'm sure I'll explain this really badly), plants, animals and humans all have souls, if one is to understand the soul as the animating spiritual power that allows the material to function.

    These three types of soul are different in their natures and function with the reasoning soul, the one possessed by humans, being the highest form.

    This is covered in the Summa Theologica, in the first part, which you can find at

    An interesting explanation of this can be found at

    Using Aquinas' reasoning there is no reason to expect that anything but human souls would be present in heaven. That being said, if earth is but a faint reflection of heaven, it is a reflection none the less. That image has always included animals and I would think heaven will, too.

  2. I don't have an opinion here, as Scripture is silent and asks us stay clear of foolish controversies. But I would ask, what's the motivation of worrying about pets? Just an observation but generally speaking, most people I've know who've love their pets so much to wish them in heaven, have had very little love for their fellow brothers and sisters.

  3. Brad...that is because, unlike the unconditional love that a dog few human brothers and sisters are deserving of that same love.

  4. Well said "Uknown" IF dogs won't be there because they don't have souls then that means that neither will there be tress or grass or water or food & so on. Dogs feel joy sadness, fear, pain just like any of us.


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