By: Mike DuBose
In 2007, my family lost a beloved cat. BB was like a member of our family, and the experience nearly broke our hearts. After we buried him, we began to ask ourselves: will we see him again in the afterlife? When I realized that there had to be many other Christian pet owners out there who struggle with the same question, I set out to look for answers amongst local ministers and in the pages of the Bible.
What happens to animals when they die? Many a person—child or adult—mourning the death of a beloved pet has asked, “Will my pet go to Heaven?” Surely God has a place in Heaven for our cats and dogs—after all, they were so cute in life!
So can we look forward to seeing our pets again in the next world? Opinions vary widely because the Bible has not specifically addressed this question. We asked six Christian ministers in the Columbia, S.C. area if they believe we will see our pets in Heaven. All agreed that the answer to this question lies in how one interprets the Scriptures. Several ministers responded “no,” but others were willing to grant the possibility, though all admitted that there is no clearly right answer. We also posed the question of whether animals go to Heaven to the staff at Columbia International University (CIU), but there was no consensus among the theologians there.
The main justification for the “no” response is that many theologians think that animals do not have souls as do people. For animals, they say, there is no salvation from sin and therefore no eternal life in God’s presence—that is reserved for human beings, who are created in God’s image. People who support this position point to verses like Matthew 18:3, which says, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Because animals cannot be converted (and cannot repent of their sins or accept Christ as their Savior), some people say that they cannot go to Heaven. Dr. Bill Barton, pastor of New Harmony Presbyterian Church, said, “I do not think that specific pets, loved during their lives as they may have been, have a soul which can be redeemed by the blood of the Savior.”
But there is a counterpoint to that position. Many Bible verses seem to indicate that God will save not only people, but every living thing. In these instances, animals and people alike wait for salvation.
“We know that in the Bible, ultimate redemption will extend to the whole of creation: i.e. Romans 8:21—‘that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God,’” said Dr. Dale Welden, senior pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. “I don’t know of a reason it would not extend to animals.” Another example is Luke 3:6, which says, “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” In the last book of the Bible, the Revelation, Christ says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Randy Alcorn, author of Heaven, believes that this extends to animals. In the book, he writes, “Horses, cats, dogs, deer, dolphins, and squirrels—as well as the inanimate creation—will be beneficiaries of Christ’s death and resurrection.” It seems that God meant animals to be part of His world—now and in the age to come.
Indeed, the Bible does confirm that there are animals in Heaven. Isaiah 11:6 describes several types (predator and prey) living in peace with one another. If God created animals for the Garden of Eden to give us a picture of His ideal place, He will surely include them in Heaven, God’s perfect new Eden! If these animals live in Heaven, there is hope that our pets could be there too. As Dr. Wendell Estep, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia, said, “In Revelation 19:11, Jesus is said to be riding a white horse. So, if a horse is in Heaven—why not my dog ‘Tex?’”
Martin Luther, “Father of the Protestant Reformation” and founder of the Lutheran church, said, “In Paradise there was complete harmony between man and animals; one day again that harmony will be restored and all creation will be made anew.” New creation—man and animal—will live together in peace. The question, then, seems to be not whether animals will be in Heaven at all, but whether they will be the animals we knew during our lives on Earth.
The argument over whether or not specific pets go to Heaven seems to hinge on the idea of a soul. Many people argue that animals do not have souls and cannot be saved, which means they cannot enter Heaven.
“Animals …are purely physical beings, i.e., they have bodies but no souls. Thus when they die they cease to exist,” said Dr. Rick Perrin, senior pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church. On this point there was agreement amongst several of our local ministers—only human beings have souls that will live again. Therefore, some say that animals do not have a place in the new world to come.
But many others insist that certain Bible passages indicate that animals do have souls (the same word, nephesh, which translates to “soul” is used in reference to both humans and animals) though not of the same kind that people have. Though the Bible does not clearly state whether or not animals have souls (and thus can be reborn), more and more religious leaders are considering the prospect. In fact, in 1990, Pope John Paul II said, “the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren.”
But are we so concerned for the eternal lives of our pets? People find companionship and joy in animals and pets because of the way God made animals (and us). He intends them to add joy and fulfillment to our lives. God is known for giving “good gifts” to His children—animals are one example of this! It’s not surprising, then, that we get so much delight from a twine-chasing kitten or the untiring retrieval of a tennis ball dropped at our feet for the 56th time. Alcorn notes in Heaven, “It would be simple for Him to re-create a pet in Heaven if He wants to. He’s the giver of all good gifts, not the taker of them. If it would please us to have a pet restored to the New Earth, that may be sufficient reason. Consider parents who’ve acquired a pet because of their child’s request.”
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, saw human beings as God’s representatives, responsible for passing on God’s blessings to the lower creation. When humankind sinned in the Garden of Eden, that blessed relationship suffered along with everything else. Therefore, Wesley looked forward to an animal kingdom restored to the glory they once enjoyed before the Fall of Man.
In a new Heaven and earth, all will be perfect. This will almost certainly include a perfect and delightful animal realm—no biting, no scratch marks on the corner of the couch. There will certainly be no muddy paws on the white tile floor and absolutely no killing of birds or growling at the mailman. But what about our current pets? Will Frances be there (without shedding hair on the sofa)? Can you expect Cracker to run to meet you in Heaven (minus the drooling, of course)? Well, that all depends on how you interpret the Scripture. But there will be opportunity to make new pets of all the animals that will be included.
As for me, I believe that God will restore our beloved pets for us in Heaven, not because they have souls, but for our pleasure. As Alcorn writes, “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 expecting that we may be with them again on the New Earth.”
Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes!” If you believe that, then get ready for one big ole animal reunion in Heaven.