(This blog post is based entirely on my own opinion and my interpretation of key points taken from the Bible.)
This is a tough issue, and it’s one with which I’ve wrestled my entire life. Well, maybe not my entire life, but for a goodly portion of it. Does God care what happens to the animals He created? Do animals have the right stuff to get into heaven?
Here’s what I believe, and why I believe it.
God cares very deeply about how we treat ALL of His creation – not just people, not just animals, but the planet itself as well. Don’t get the wrong idea – I’m very much in favor of drilling for oil and developing the natural resources we have IN A RESPONSIBLE WAY THAT TAKES CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT. This is the only planet we have, folks. Even if scientists find other life-sustaining planets, they probably belong to other people (that’s right, people – maybe not human people but that’s beside the point), and our great-great-great grandchildren will be dead and gone before we ever reach them.
God made it very clear that we’re to be stewards over His creation – we don’t own this world, we just live here, and we’re expected to take care of it. You know how when you borrow your neighbor’s car and you make sure you fill the gas tank and remove all your trash before you return it? That’s called “respecting other peoples’ property.” That same premise holds true for this world on which we live.
I’m going to continue to support drilling for oil, and exploring nuclear energy, and I’m going to keep right on eating cheeseburgers made with beef and chicken alfredo made with chicken. But I think we have to be good stewards, and just because a cow’s going to end up as a hamburger or a chicken’s going to wind up in an Italian dish doesn’t mean their lives aren’t sacred – it simply means they have a purpose, and that purpose is to feed us – and we have an obligation to care for that animal until the time comes for it to serve its purpose. It makes me very angry to hear about the animal cruelty that is common in the food production industry. And it makes me very angry when I see the rape and pillage done to the land in the name of extracting resources for our use. We can get to the oil without poisoning the ocean. We can get timber without raping an entire forest. And we can get meat without being utterly cruel and indifferent to the animals providing it. It’s all about stewardship.
The Bible has many examples of how God expects us to treat animals. Matthew wrote that not a sparrow falls without God’s knowledge. If God considers even a sparrow, how much more does He consider the greater creatures of creation? Balam’s ass was given the power of speech to rebuke her master when he beat her – she said (and I paraphrase), “Why do you beat me when I have served you faithfully all these years? I have stopped to save you from the angel ahead which was put there to kill you!” And when the Samaritan woman came to Jesus for healing and He asked why He should give the children’s blessings to the dogs, she said (again paraphrasing), “Even the dogs lie under the table to eat the scraps the Master tosses to them.”
Do these examples prove that animals go to heaven? No, of course not. The Bible very surely doesn’t address that question. We’re told that there will be lions and lambs lying side by side in the Kingdom, and we’re told that Jesus and the hosts of heaven will ride out on horses to do battle at the end of time, so we know there will be animals there – but we’re not told that Fido and Rover have an eternal home alongside us.
So now we get to MY OPINION. I put that in all caps on purpose, to make sure everyone knows I’m stating MY OPINION and not trying to pass it off as fact.
I believe that God gave us certain animals to be our companions and to serve us. These animals are intelligent. They have the ability to learn to understand our speech – spoken or signed. They have the capacity to love us, and are very open in their affection. When they die, we grieve. When we die, they grieve.
So we die, and we go to heaven, and we’re hoping to see our four-legged furry best friends up there. Cats, dogs, horses – and I’ll not limit it to those because who am I to limit what God can do? We get to heaven, and we look – but we don’t see them anywhere. We go to God.
“Um, Father, excuse me – but where is Puddles?”
“Puddles?” God looks at us from His exalted height. “Puddles was a cat. I don’t have room for cats in heaven. Good grief, you’re in heaven, for crying out loud, and you’re going to whine over a cat?”
“Puddles was my best friend. He saved my life. The only reason I stopped doing heroin is because Puddles needed me and loved me and believed in me. Why isn’t he here?”
God scratches His head. “Well, to be perfectly honest, I never did understand why you humans put so much stock into critters. I don’t see any need for them to be here – so they’re not.”
Do I believe this is the sort of God we serve? No, I don’t believe that for a minute. I don’t believe God would have given us animals which would win our hearts and fill the needs in our lives only to leave out that important something that would give them eternal life. I just don’t believe He’s cruel like that.
People can do things that result in eternal damnation. Animals lack the reasoning capacity to be damned. People are damned by their own choices. The Bible is clear on that – salvation is a choice, and damnation is a choice, and each individual human is the author of his or her own fate through choice. Children and the mentally retarded are excluded from this because they lack the reasoning capacity to understand right from wrong – so do animals lack the ability to distinguish right from wrong in a moral sense (that is to say, Bowser knows he shouldn’t get into the trash because we tell him not to – but he doesn’t understand that trash is bad for him and can make him sick). Thus animals can’t be damned, and therefore it is in my humble opinion fully logical to conclude that they will be accepted into the ranks of the heaven-bound.
When I get to heaven I fully expect to be greeted by a whole menagerie of beloved friends who have passed before me. Not only do I believe animals go to heaven – I believe some of us who have loved them will have the privelege of entering heaven not by passing through the pearly gates, but by crossing the rainbow bridge. I surely hope to be counted among that number.