Last week, the ABC television show, 20/20, aired a special program hosted by Barbara Walters called “Heaven.” You can watch it in its entirety here at ABC’s website.
Since I was in Italy, I didn’t catch the show, but I hope to watch it soon. Friends who saw it have remarked that it was interesting and timely, especially in light of our recent sermon series at Resurrection, Good Grief: Facing Death with Hope.
If you watched the 20/20 special and have more questions about death, dying, and the afterlife, I encourage you to listen to or watch the four sermons in that series: "The Art of Dying Well," "Comforting Those Who Mourn," "Christianity and Suicide," and "Death and the Afterlife."
One of the questions I've been asked frequently in this series of messages is whether our pets go to heaven. I posted this question on my Pastor Adam Hamilton Facebook page and received a number of interesting responses. The Bible does not directly take up this question, so any answer is speculative, but I'll take a stab at an answer.
First, I hope all animals don't go to heaven. I really don't care much for ticks, spiders, snakes, wolves, and bears! But perhaps even some of these have a place in heaven. Isaiah once gave a picture of the coming Messianic age in which he states that in that age, "The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD." This may have been simply a metaphorical way of speaking about that future realm, but it may also point to the truth that there will be animals in heaven.
In Revelation we hear of Christ riding a horse as he returns for the final judgment. Some point to this as a sign that the animals we've known on earth join us in heaven.
Others have argued that animals don't have souls and thus will not be in heaven. I suppose that depends upon how one defines a soul. I have always felt that my pets did have souls; they have intelligence, personality, and character and they express joy, protectiveness, and companionship.
I think that it is possible that God raises up those animals that had special meaning in our lives, and that perhaps his resurrection of these creatures is part of the gift that God gives us in heaven. I'm thinking that this raising up of animals may be tied closely to the connection these animals had with human beings, and that not all animals are in heaven, but that animals may be "saved" by virtue of the faith of their human companions. I know that for many people who never had children, their pets are their children. For any who have loved an animal, they become an important part of one's life.
Each time we've lost a pet I have had a brief ceremony thanking God for the life of the pet and commending them to God's care. I'm not concerned about seeing the gerbils, hamsters, and rabbits in heaven (I've lost track of all their names by now). But dogs and cats seem somehow more important to me.
There is one last thought I've had about this. In the Bible, Paradise is a word used for the afterlife where the righteous dead go. Jesus uses this term as he was dying on the cross. Paradise, as you may remember, was the name for the "king's garden"—a place of beauty that combined both the concept of an arboretum with that of a zoo. Animals were kept in the king's garden.
So, when a pet dies, I commend them to God's love and care. They are creatures of God and in some ways, less marred by sin and more freely giving glory to God than we humans. I trust God with their lives. I find comfort in the thought that they, too, will experience the blessings of Paradise.
You may be interested in reading my other blog posts on this topic: