How many of you have pets?
Well way back when I was a little boy my parents surprised my brothers and I with a little puppy for Christmas. Marty was a peek-a-poo, half Pekinese and half poodle. We enjoyed him for many years. Then one day Marty ran away and we never saw him again. Now
Marty was over 10 years old and ill when he left home. He wasn't known as a wanderer so my parents spent days looking for him. But we never did see him again.
My parents offered the explanation that perhaps Marty knew he was dying and didn't want to put us through any grief or trouble so he left home to die peacefully somewhere else. Quit frankly I couldn't think of a better explanation, so I accepted that
explanation and still do to this day. Every now and then I think of Marty and I wonder if I will ever see him again, will I see Marty in heaven?
That brings us to our topic and question for today. Do pets go to heaven?
This question is one that I think many a pet owner has asked, if not aloud, quietly to themselves. I know some of you have asked this question of me in recent months.
Well sooner or later, for pet owners, any discussion of pet loss comes around to this question. Lengthy articles have been written on both sides of the argument. An ABC News poll showed that 47% of pet owners believed the answer was yes that pets do go to
heaven, and 35% said "no".
Christians tend to find this question particularly difficult, because we want to base "answers" to any spiritual question on the authority of the Bible. Consequently, most discussions of this question turn into scripture-slinging contests, addressing the
issue of whether animals have "souls," can they be "redeemed," so on and so forth.
But the problem is scripture doesn't offer a definitive answer to this question. And there's a reason for this; it's not simply God's perverse decision to leave thousands of pet owners in the dark. Perhaps the reason the Bible is silent on this issue is
because the Bible is about human redemption; it's a book about the choices humans must make.
And if pets do go to heaven it isn't due to anything you or I do to "get" them there -- so perhaps it's no surprise that the Bible contains no specific answers for us on the matter.
Also, silence on the subject doesn't mean a negative answer either. The Bible is silent on many things, leaving us with a number of questions that we must explore and resolve using the hearts and minds that God gave us -- seeking an answer that's rooted, not
in theology and doctrine, but in reason, love, and our personal experiences with God.
So what I hope to offer today is not a "hard answer" to the question because quit frankly I can't, but I do hope to provide a framework within which you can choose your own answer, based on your ability to reason and your understanding of God's love.
The Christian concept of heaven is linked with the concepts of salvation, redemption, and resurrection. Christians don't believe that "going to heaven" happens automatically; it's the result of conscious faith decisions made during one's life.
And while the Bible is very specific about the requirements for human salvation, it says nothing about salvation for animals. So this has led some folks to assume that, since animals can't be "saved," they can't possibly go to heaven.
However, another way to look at this question is to recall why the Bible states that redemption is "necessary" for humans. In scriptural terms, humans are "fallen" beings. Humans have free will, and therefore the ability to choose between good and evil.
Humans can choose salvation and heaven, or choose to reject both.
Animals, however, have never "fallen" -- and if one has not fallen, it's not at all clear that the step of "redemption" is necessary. Animals can't "choose" between good and evil; when animals behave badly in our homes, it is generally because of a conflict
between their God-given natures and our human requirements. Animals have no need to be saved because they aren't considered "sinners."
This doesn't mean that we can necessarily assume that because animals have no "sin," they're automatically received into heaven. What it does mean is that the whole issue of "redemption" simply doesn't apply.
Whether animals go to heaven or not, the question of "redemption" is not the basis for letting them in -- or keeping them out.
Another common argument against the notion that pets go to heaven is that "animals don't have souls." Again, the Bible isn't exactly clear on this, so the question is not answerable on a strictly scriptural basis.
Lets consider heaven for a moment. What do you believe heaven is like? If you ask this question of most people, you're likely to get a description of a glorious garden, filled with beautiful trees and radiant flowers, with sparkling waters and soft breezes.
Very few people imagine heaven as some sort of giant, sterile concrete parking lot, devoid of life.
We base our image of heaven on the beauties of the creation we live in now. And just as I can't imagine a heaven without plants, neither can I imagine one without animals. Whether or not animals have souls, I'm convinced there are animals in heaven. After
all, God created all the creatures of the earth on the fifth and sixth days of creation, right before the creation of humanity.
You know God has a purpose for every part of his creation and I believe God uses pets to help humans learn about God's love and faithfulness. When I enter my house after being gone all day, the one thing I can count on is being greeted by my dog Molly with
her slobbery tongue of love.
From our pets, we also learn mercy, compassion, patience, and understanding -- and we also learn what it means to receive unconditional love. If pets are a means by which we are taught about love, must we assume that once we have learned the lesson, we're
then forced to lose that love forever?
Are we to assume that God, the author of love, has so little compassion for us that He first gives us pets to love and pets to love us only later to say, "Oh well, I know that you really loved that little dog or precious cat I sent your way, but rules are
rules so you won't see them again"? I don't believe that. God is a God of love and he wouldn't give us love one day, only to take it away permanently on another.
Now while I may wonder about whether I'll be reunited with my pets in heaven, I am certain of one thing: My pets aren't wondering the same thing. Theology is only of interest to those who wonder about choices.
Our pets live in the now, not in the next week; they deal with what is, not what might be, or could be, or should be. Pets don't ask, "What comes next?" This is a human question, based on human grief.
I firmly believe that God takes care of all his creation including the animals of this world. So when I ask whether I'm going to meet my dog again, I'm asking for my sake, out of my grief -- not because I feel I have to worry that God will forget to look
after my dog if I don't remind Him. I ask, because I want to know if my loss is eternal or temporary.
Would heaven be a wonderful place -- would it truly be "paradise" -- if our pets weren't there? For many, the answer is "no" -- and obviously, God knows this! Placing restrictions on what can or can't be in heaven is a fruitless exercise, much like debating
how a camel can go through the eye of a needle; no one has brought back a report of what's in heaven, and sooner or later we're all going to find out anyway. In the mean time, on the issue of whether pets go to heaven or not, we are free to believe what we choose, based on our
understanding of God and God's love.
Now, there are some who feel that it's important to be "right" about everything all the time, especially everything spiritual -- that there's no room for spiritual "error" if you will.
These are the folks, I suspect, who argue most loudly and angrily against the concept of pets in heaven. And there are certainly many issues on which, for a Christian, there is no "wiggle room" for debate.
But I believe where the answer absolutely matters, where the answer has eternal significance for us, the answer is given. If the answer is not given, then it's quite possible the answer doesn't really matter at this point in our lives - there's no penalty
for being "wrong."
If we believe that pets go to heaven, and this turns out to be incorrect, there's no penalty. Such a belief will not doom anyone to hell; it's not a salvation issue. Nor are we at risk of leading someone else "astray" if we allow him or her to hold onto such
If, for example, you're concerned about allowing a child to believe something you think is an "error," ask yourself whether having such a belief is more damaging to that child's faith than believing that God doesn't share or respect that child's genuine love
for his or her pet, or care about his or her grief.
So what if we choose to believe that our pets are in heaven and then, when we get there, we find out we're wrong? While this may be painful to imagine, it's equally hard to imagine being disappointed in any way shape or form when we do get to heaven --
whether we find our pets there or not.
As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know full, even as I am fully known." This text means what we don't know now, we will know in the
future; and what we don't understand now, we will understand in the future. And in the end we will not be disappointed.
So what's the bottom line? Do pets go to heaven or not?
Well every argument I've offered in favor of pets going to heaven could easily be used to argue the opposite view. So the key is not to seek a "definitive answer," because there is none. The key is this: On this particular issue, where the Bible is silent,
we have the right to choose the answer that seems true to us -- that comforts and consoles us - that's based on our best efforts to reason and understand God and God's love for all creation. In the future when we enter heavens gates, God will reveal all truth.
As for me, I believe pets do go to heaven, and I believe I will see my dog Marty again.
Thanks be to God for our pets, and for the joy and love they bring to our lives!
Material for the sermon was in part inspired by
the The Pet Loss Support Page, Moira Allen, Editor