Given the title of my blog, I thought today that perhaps I should explore a little more philosophy than I have in the past. Granted, the issue I’m about to raise is theological rather than philosophical, but I think oftentimes the two are closely related.
Last night, my cat passed away. It wasn’t unexpected; he was eighteen years old, but it got me thinking about a topic that has been discussed quite a bit among dog-lovers and cat-lovers alike: Will I see my pet in heaven?
I did a little quick research (aka Google), and I figured I’d start with some arguments from both sides of the issue. For the purposes of this post, I am presenting the data from an orthodox Christian viewpoint of heaven, since in my experience, that’s where I hear the debate taking place.
First, though, a few data that I think are sensible enough to be agreed on by both sides.
- Both mankind and animals were created by an all-loving Creator.
- Mankind was created superior to animals and were made in the image of God.
- Along the same lines, God prohibits murder of other humans, but not the killing of animals.
- Animals have intelligence and a mind capable of learning and being injured by abuse.
From these, the cards seem pretty evenly stacked to me. But each side has their own arguments to present. The plot thickens.
A Side Note about Arguments
I just wanted to point out that when I use the word “argument”, I am using it detached from the negative connotations we generally attach to it. By argument, I mean an ordered, sensible reason for one side or the other’s way of thinking, not a spat between an old married couple.
In Defense of Heavenly Pets
- To restate and emphasize one of our original data, animals are capable of feeling both physical and emotional pain. Animals can develop mental disorders, and some are smarter than others. They can also display excitement proportionate to the time we’ve been away upon our return home. They have distinct personalities.
- God created animals. Would he let them be destroyed on the last day?
- Isaiah 65:29 seems to state that there will be animals in the new heaven and new earth:
“The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord. (NIV)
- And again, Genesis 9:9-10:
“I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth.”
- Our pets are important to us. Pets are our family too.
Against Heavenly Pets
- To restate and emphasize another original datum, God granted us dominion over all animals. We are to care for them, but they do not deserve the same level of respect as humans. E.g. we keep farms of cattle for milk, labor, etc.. To keep humans for labor would be unethical. (That didn’t stop 19th century Americans, but I digress.) Would God permit us to kill and eat creatures with rational souls capable of choosing heaven? It seems unlikely.
- On another level, each of us faces a choice of heaven or hell, according to orthodox Christian doctrine. We must make a choice whether to sail our boat into God’s harbor or out upon the sea of despair. Animals are incapable of making such a choice. How can they receive God’s gift of heaven if they are unable to consciously accept it?
- Animals may be very important to us. Entire careers revolve around them, and they elevate our human experience, comforting us, assisting those in therapy and the disabled. However, if we are in heaven, our entire being will center around worshiping God. We won’t have careers or pain or disability. What purpose would pets serve?
- If our beloved pets are in heaven, where is the line drawn? Will mosquitoes, viruses, and pathogenic bacteria exist in heaven too?
My Two Cents
Both sides have arguments that make a lot of sense. However, it seems to me that it is impossible to say with the knowledge we currently have. We do know that when this earth passes away, things will be very much (like, a lot) different than they are now. These arguments may carry new implications.
That said, Isaiah 65:25 and one or two New Testament passages do appear to claim the existence of animals in the new heaven and earth. It doesn’t make any mention of pets specifically, but in general, animals seem to still be around. After all, who imagines heaven as a place devoid of animals, plants, trees, flowers, etc.? Nobody. And regarding mosquitoes and other pests, I think in heaven, everything is capable of living in a non-parasitic and harmonious manner.
My personal conclusion is that it’s simply not possible to know. But I would like to point out two more things. Firstly, one of my sources rightly pointed out that we may tend to overstate the importance of this debate. After all, our primary goal is to get to heaven ourselves and to do God’s will in everything. Pets are kind of secondary to that.
And finally, I leave you with this, from christianity.about.com:
That’s why I like the story about the elderly widow whose beloved little dog died after fifteen faithful years. Distraught, she went to her pastor.
“Parson,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks, “the vicar said animals have no souls. My darling little dog Fluffy has died. Does that mean I won’t see her again in heaven?”
“Madam,” said the old priest, “God, in his great love and wisdom has created heaven to be a place of perfect happiness. I am sure that if you need your little dog to complete your happiness, you will find her there.”
If it is truly necessary to our happiness that our pets be with us in Paradise, then I trust they will be there.
Rest in peace, Sasha, old pal.