Six months ago today, one of this world’s brightest lights went out when my gorgeous wife Fiona left us.
In the light of my former post in this series, in which C. S. Lewis describes ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’, a saintly lady in Heaven who had amongst her train of followers many animals that she had loved and befriended during her life – and who reminded me of Fiona – I thought it time to address the problem: Do animals go to Heaven? The Bible is silent on this issue, so what does happen to them? And my daughter lost her pet rat this month, when he lost his battle with a probable brain tumour. So, for us, it’s a pretty topical subject.
And, as we are an animal-loving family, I thought it might be an idea to discuss on here whether indeed animals will join us in Heaven, especially those who are our animals.
Why is this post part of my ‘Fiona’ series? Well, a few weeks before my wife Fiona died (can’t believe it’s six months ago today that we lost her), she had a real-life, solid waking vision of what was awaiting her when she passed away. I will not go into details, but I will say that the vision involved animals. Part of Fiona’s reward includes animals, very much like ‘Sarah Smith from Golders Green’. And Fiona loved her animals, and would it not be fitting if her animals were waiting to welcome her when she arrived there? Because I am indeed convinced that she went to be with her animals as well as with her Lord, I have today published this blog post. In this piece, then, I examine ideas about our animals being with us – and with Fiona right now – in Heaven.*
Certainly the Bible mentions animals in the Kingdom. Things like, ‘the lion shall lie down with the lamb’ and similar passages speaking of the peace of the Kingdom to come. And, while the Bible is very quiet on the ‘eternal fate’ of animals, there is the sense from reading the Bible that hints that, as humans are redeemed, so Creation as a whole is redeemed too on the back of our redemption. It’s all a bit mysterious, is that, but the concept certainly is there. Like in Romans 8:19, “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” It’s as if, once the saints come into their inheritance, Creation follows suit. I think Heaven is going to be full of animals!
In my research for this piece, I found many websites that kind-of abstract the whole thing about animals in Heaven. They talk about animals not being able to ‘accept Christ’; not being able to ‘understand salvation’, all that kind of thing. They miss out entirely the idea I mentioned above, that creation longs for the sons of God to be revealed. For the time when everything will be made right. In a sense, we understand salvation on their behalf, and it is through our life in Christ that they too are ‘saved’. Clearly, many of these writers have never known the love and affection of a devoted family pet, or the close relationship of a working animal with its master. Like a draft horse, a Police dog, or similar. When Jesus said that ‘he who loses his life will keep it for life eternal’, there is a hint there that everything you are, everything that formed a part of you, everything that your animals were to you, everything good about your life here on Earth, all that will somehow be caught up and included in your life in Heaven. And so it is my belief that this fully includes your animals. The animals to whom you show love and self-giving, with whom you form a loving relationship.
Also, the great Christian thinker and writer I mentioned above, C. S. Lewis, wrote that in his opinion, the ‘higher’ animals, such as dogs, cats and horses, almost seemed to have a ‘soul’. And therefore, at least some of the animal kingdom would be in Heaven. They have characters; they have personalities. They have intelligence, they have emotions and feelings. Sammy, my daughter’s rat, had a bright, sunny personality; he could do tricks, he knew his name and would come when called. He loved my daughter and you could tell that he knew she loved him. There was real intelligence and, yes, consciousness there. In other words, these animals are, in their own way, persons, and as such, that is what is redeemed. And the redemption idea was what Lewis was strongly hinting at in the ‘Sarah Smith’ passage quoted in my article. Zeus, my German Shepherd dog (he’s the dog in the header picture) is a person – there’s no doubt about it. Those who would sneer at this and accuse me of anthropomorphising Zeus’s behaviour (superimposing human traits onto an animal) don’t have a clue; they have never met him. He’s a person all right. My daughter, in fact, pointed out today that actually animals are, in a sense, far more Godly than we are because they love unconditionally, and forgive easily. And that they don’t have the same ‘walls’ that we have, whether self-erected or not. I read once – it may have been in Lewis, it may not – that animals live actually in the constant, conscious awareness of God. That’s something we cannot know, of course, but I do think there’s something in that; this is maybe why dogs and other pets are used as therapy visitors in hospitals, where they have such marked positive effects on the patients they visit.
And there’s more, this time from personal experience. I remember when we lost our first German Shepherd dog, Jasper, in 1994 (as mentioned in this piece). Fiona had a vision of him jumping up into Jesus’s lap and licking His face. (How Jasper got away with that, I don’t know; we never used to let him lick our faces!). As with all of the visions Fiona had, it was very real, almost like a solid vision, a ‘real dream’. But she saw it, all right. I saw her burst into tears of joy when she saw that picture…it wasn’t until after the meeting we were in that she told me what she’d seen. I’m convinced it was a real God-given vision, by its fruits of peace, joy and hope that it produced. We will see Jasper in Heaven. Well, we have already seen Jasper in Heaven!
This next bit is relevant, so bear with me! Christians speak about ‘Judgement Day’. For most, this is a terrifying concept where everyone’s secrets are laid bare so that God can ‘smite’ (whatever that means!) people for what they’ve done. Let me encourage you, then, for in fact the very opposite is true. God’s justice is, actually, everything being in right relationship, in its right place, ‘The way things should be’, we could say. And God’s judgement is not a heavenly court-room where we are all tried ‘for our sins’; instead, judgement is the means by which God’s justice is achieved; the process of righting all wrongs so that His justice comes into full fruition. That’s what Judgement and Justice mean.
God’s justice and His judgement are therefore restorational concepts, not punitive ones.
Like all Kingdom concepts, it is happening in the here and now wherever Christ’s followers bring Him into a situation. It is also what will happen at the ‘Last Judgement’ and at that point it will be brought to its completion. This is why I look forward to that judgement; I look forward to everything being restored to its proper order and in its proper place, with everyone in right relationship with God and with others. I look forward to everything that was ever wrong being made right, and every injustice set straight. I look forward to everything being ‘the way that it should be’. When viewed in that manner, ‘Judgement’ and ‘Justice’ take on a whole different meaning from that of the angry god taking out his ‘wrath’ on people, to one of a loving God who wants nothing less than peace and wholeness for everything He has made.
Why is this relevant to whether or not animals will be in Heaven? Well, you see, death is one of those things that is ‘wrong’; that needs to be put right. It’s just so hurtful, so damaging and so painful. And permanent too.
Except that it isn’t. Because Jesus rose from the dead, literally came back to life after being dead for days, it shows that in fact God has declared death defeated. Death no longer has the permanence it once had. ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory!’ (1Cor15:54 and Isa 25:7-8). And so death itself will be one of those ‘wrong’ things that will be done away with, for ever. So there is nothing to prevent all that our animals were to us, all the love and affection they gave and received, from being given back to us in the next life. Death is defeated; why should this not extend to our animals? God is just that kind of God, Who would do really ace stuff like that! 🙂
And so, if all that was ever wrong is put right, surely then the ‘wrong’, undeserved, sometimes untimely deaths of all these pets will be put right too. My daughter’s pet rat Sammy was only sixteen months old when he died. Rats are supposed to live for two to three years. It’s all wrong. But that too will be put right.
What about animals that were not our pets? How about animals bred entirely for use as food? What about bugs, bacteria and whatnot? Where is the line drawn? Well, we can’t know for certain, of course. For an animal that does not mean all that much to us personally, like, say, a wild animal; an animal that does not ‘belong’ to someone as such; such an animal might be in Heaven, but not actually linked with anyone. I really don’t have any ideas on that, I’m afraid.
But let’s stick to what I do believe. I personally think that people’s pets or working animals – shall we say, ‘conscious’ animals with which we formed a mutually-beneficial relationship – I firmly believe that animals like those will be raised up with us as part of our inheritance as saints.
And finally, there’s this vitally important point too: God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4). This means that everything that ever upset you, everything that ever hurt you, everything will be made right and things will be just as if the bad stuff never happened! I have written about this before, and the same principle applies here. This is part of God’s restorative justice. It’s part of what will happen. The Bible is full of God’s promises to restore – “I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel and will rebuild them as they were at first.” – (Jer 33:7); “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” – (Joel 2:25). Granted, many of these prophecies were regarding the restoration of Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon, but the heart of God is still to restore. Restoring: putting things back where they belong; giving them back; restoring relationship – including those with our beloved pets.
So, animals in Heaven. Why not? Given the generous and, moreover, restoring nature of God, and that He loves to surprise us and bless us with every good thing, and given that Heaven will be better than anything and everything we could ever have dreamed, why not?
Do our pets go to Heaven?
Yes! They do!!
*And part of the reason for this post is that, in this series, I explore various ideas about the ‘afterlife’ and the grieving process of losing a loved one. Animals too are ‘loved ones’, so I felt for both reasons, and more, it was fitting to examine this topic as part of this series 🙂
The header picture shows my magnificent German Shepherd dog, Zeus. He’s a gentle giant whom we adopted at fifteen months old. When we got him he was a bit of a sad case who was terrified of men (we think he’d been abused by his previous owner), he hadn’t been socialised with other dogs, and he was generally not well-trained at all. After four to six months with us, he’d turned into the most placid, gentle, obedient dog you could wish for. He now gathers a fan club wherever he goes; everyone wants to stroke him and have pictures taken with him (especially Japanese people for some reason). He’s 9 now and weighs in at 55kg, by far the biggest German Shepherd we have owned, even bigger than Bruno. Here he is again, on the beach at Porthcothan in north Cornwall (and the photo is clickable to magnify it):
[Edit] – A shortened version of this post was also published on the ‘Unfundamentalist Christians’ blog on the Patheos website. Click here to see it on that site.
[Edit 24th June 2017] – yesterday, our beloved Zeusy went to be with his Mum. He died completely unexpectedly; in the morning he was welcoming visitors and doing his walk and stuff, and within twelve hours he was gone. Naturally we are heartbroken but, as I am sure you’ve worked out by now, we believe that he’s gone to be with Jesus and his Mum. I look forward to the exuberant welcome he will give me when it’s my turn…