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Vol. 79 - No. 9
September 2008

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

               

Another Ask the Pastor Question–Animals in heaven?

   The next "Ask the Pastor" sermon will be Sunday, Oct. 5, but I selected a question to address in this month’s Messenger.

Will our pets be with us in heaven? This is a frequently asked question. I suspect the most frequent answer among clergy is "No, because animals don’t have immortal souls." Those who have looked deeply into the eyes of a beloved dog or cat may not find such an answer satisfying–because in those eyes there is something akin to a soul! Something that relates, communicates, and connects with us humans.

For the Christian, however, we look for answers, not in our animals’ eyes, but in the Holy Scriptures. Scripture never directly addresses the question of whether animals have souls or not. It does say that we humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:28)–a privilege no animal enjoys. However, the Bible also indicates that God cares about animals–the story of Noah’s Ark, for instance, where God provides for the animals to be saved from the flood. The story of Jonah, too, shows God’s care for animals–God sends Jonah to proclaim impending judgement on Ninevah, so that the city may be saved; and God explains Jonah’s mission in these words:

And should I not be concerned about Ninevah, that great city, in which there are

more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right

hand from their left, and also many animals? (Jonah 4:11).

 So God cared about the animals of Ninevah as well as the people. Jesus also reminds us:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground

apart from your Father. (Matthew 10:29)

Animals are given great dignity when they are used to symbolize Jesus the Saviour. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:35). He is the great Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5). He compares Himself to a chicken who shields its young from danger (Luke 13:34). God is likened to a bear who ferociously protects her cubs (Hosea 13:8). The Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove (Mark 1:10). Outside of the Scriptures, Christian art envisions Christ as a pelican who feeds her children with her own blood (an image found in many older Lutheran churches), and the risen Lord as a butterfly. So animals have a very positive role in Christianity.

Instead of asking, "Do they have souls?" I prefer to ask "Do animals have a future?" I look at a passage like this from the prophet Isaiah, where he describes the harmony in nature after Christ’s return:

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf

and the lion at the fatling together. (Isaiah11:6)                                                                       

Since most of our pets are either cats or dogs, it’s interesting to note that this passage includes both the ultimate canine (the wolf) and the ultimate feline (the lion). So maybe cats and dogs have a place in God’s future after all! (It would be hard to understand if he created them merely to discard them eternally). One could, however, argue that the language in Isaiah is symbolic. There is, however, a clearly non-symbolic passage indicating that all creation somehow has a role in the future God has planned for us:

The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God...the

creation itself will be set from its bondage to decay and share in the glorious liberty

of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19,21).                                                                                         

It seems, then, that God has some kind of future in store for the animals in His creation.

A lady once said to Billy Graham, "If my cat Fluffy isn’t in heaven with me, then I won’t be happy there." And Dr. Graham replied: "If Fluffy is absolutely necessary for your happiness in heaven, then Fluffy will be there." A wise response–heaven is a place of perfect happiness, and whatever we need for our happiness will be there. What Dr. Graham left unsaid in his sensitive and caring response to the lady is that the only thing we absolutely need for happiness is God. I do not absolutely need my dogs or my cats–all I really need is God.

But I love my dogs and cats, and if I have them in heaven, then I will be delighted. Looking into those eyes, I see something that I cannot imagine vanishing eternally. If it turns out that it does vanish eternally, then I will accept it as part of God’s plan, cherish my animals’ memory, and enjoy the vision of God forever. But I think both Scripture and the desire of our hearts give us hope that our animal friends have a continuing role in the future God has planned for us. It’s not the kind of certainty that we have about our own future with God–the Scriptural evidence isn’t strong enough for certainty. But it’s a reasonable hope, based on God’s love for His creation–why would He create such beauty only to allow it to pass away eternally?

There is, by the way, a marvelous passage in C. S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain that deals with this question. He takes the issue seriously and offers some interesting speculation, and I refer you to his work for further illumination.

And I end by pointing out that every creature testifies to the greatness of God. The dog, the cat, the rabbit, the hamster, the lizard–in their complexity and beauty, they point to a great and wise creator. And that creator has shared His very self with us in Jesus Christ, the true Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

God loves you and so do I!

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