Monday, February 24, 2020

Anonymous Asks (81)

“Will my pet go to heaven?”

As a pet owner and lover, I have no small vested interest in the question myself. That said, given what I know of God, if it turns out that my much-loved critters do not appear beside me in glory one day, I will not be turning to my heavenly Father to complain. There is simply too much about my own consciousness that I do not know with certainty for me to speculate with any confidence about animal consciousness and its eternal value.

Some things we simply have to leave to God. If there is a distinction to be made between the concepts of faith and trust, I would not be able to tell you what it is. Among Christians, then, who have already committed our own selves to Christ for salvation, a little trust on these smaller matters is in order.

A Little Internet Research

Nevertheless, out of sheer curiosity I did a little web research to see how others have answered a question which the Bible does not.

Billy Graham once opined:
“God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.”
Not unreasonable, but Graham does not stop to point out that the way we measure happiness in the presence of God may well be vastly different than the way we measure it today.

Martin Luther couldn’t resist weighing in:
Be thou comforted, little dog. Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.”
Aw. A bit sentimental, but what dog lover would argue?

Souls and the Image of God

A writer at the usually-reliable offers this:
“The Bible does not give any explicit teaching on whether pets have ‘souls’ or whether pets will be in heaven.”
Of course, this brings up the rather complicated question of how “soul” is defined. My own understanding of the concept is different from some people’s. Another website refers to the fact that men and women are made in God’s image, suggesting that this may be the standard by which entry into glory is determined, and that pets are probably therefore excluded.

“I’m convinced animals go to heaven; here’s why. The Bible says God made the animals and was pleased, as he was with man. But Adam and Eve chose their downfall, and created the need for a savior for humans. Animals are still exactly the way God made them — pure and simply acting as the animals they are, with no sin against God. They don’t need a savior like we do, and so will go to heaven, because they already have a perfect relationship with God that was never marred by rebellion.”
Let me get back to you shortly on that one.

Lewis Weighs In

And of course no list of Christian speculations about animals and eternity would be complete without a few C.S. Lewis quotes, all four from The Problem of Pain:
“We know neither why [the beasts] were made nor what they are, and everything we say about them is speculative.”
“The real difficulty about supposing most animals to be immortal is that immortality has almost no meaning for a creature which is not ‘conscious’ in the sense explained above. If the life of a newt is merely a succession of sensations, what should we mean by saying that God may recall to life the newt that died today? It would not recognize itself as the same newt; the pleasant sensations of any other newt that lived after its death would be just as much, or just as little, a recompense for its earthly sufferings (if any) as those of it’s resurrected — I was going to say ‘self’, but the whole point is that the newt probably has no self.”
It seems reasonable to distinguish the higher animals from the lower ones with respect to selfhood, but Lewis goes further than this:
The tame animal is ... in the deepest sense, the only ‘natural’ animal — the only one we see occupying the place it was made to occupy, and it is on the tame animal that we must base all our doctrine of beasts. Now it will be seen that, in so far as the tame animal has a real self or personality, it owes this almost entirely to its master.”
Thus, Lewis concludes:
“Supposing, as I do, that the personality of the tame animals is largely the gift of man — that their mere sentience is reborn to soulhood in us as our mere soulhood is reborn to spirituality in Christ — I naturally suppose that very few animals indeed, in their wild state, attain to a ‘self’ or ego. But if any do, and if it is agreeable to the goodness of God that they should live again, their immortality would also be related to man — not, this time, to individual masters, but to humanity. That is to say, if in any instance the quasi-spiritual and emotional value which human tradition attributes to a beast (such as the ‘innocence’ of the lamb or the heraldic royalty of the lion) has a real ground in the beast’s nature, and is not merely arbitrary or accidental, then it is in that capacity, or principally in that, that the beast may be expected to attend on risen man and make part of his ‘train’.”

In My Humble Opinion ...

Okay then. Bearing in mind that almost all of this discussion is wildly speculative, and relies on deductions rather than the plain statements of the word of God, let me point out a few things about the above opinions that do and don’t work for me:
  1. We cannot know for certain that “animals are still exactly the way God made them”, as we have no evidence for this. Did God originally make the shark precisely as we find him today, or the honey badger, the mosquito or the bullet ant? We do not know this at all. We do know that the creation groans because of man, that it was “subjected to futility” because of man, and that the creation “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” We also know that animals will behave differently during the millennial reign of Christ than they do today (“they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain”). All this suggests animals are not the way God originally made them, or at very least are not yet optimally configured for life in the coming age.
  2. It may be true that “animals do not need a savior” in the same sense as human beings do, in that they are quite incapable of individually or personally responding to the offer of salvation through the cross of Christ. That does not mean they do not need man to be redeemed in order to become what they ought to be, and it does not mean they “have a perfect relationship with God” or are fit for his presence as they are currently constituted. The eighth chapter of Romans strongly suggests the destiny of animals is inextricably tied to that of the human race. In this I have to agree with Lewis.
  3. We do not know whether either the presence of a “soul” (however we may define it) or “being made in the image of God” (whatever we may mean by that) have anything to do with being allowed to dwell for eternity in the presence of God. The Bible describes several sorts of beings and living creatures who serve various purposes in God’s dominion and abide in his presence. We haven’t the slightest idea how these beings are constituted; as to soul, image or otherwise.
  4. Some link the biblical concept of “soul” with the Genesis concept of man being “made in the image of God”, concluding that to be made in the image of God is to have a soul, and not to be made in the image of God is not to have one. Thus, they say, animals do not possess souls.

    I quite firmly disagree. My reasoning is that “soul” is used in our Bibles in a number of different ways. In early Genesis, having a soul seems equivalent to merely being alive (“... that my life [‘soul’; Hebrew nephesh] may be spared for your sake”). Later in Genesis, the range of “soul” expands to include intentions and will (“If you are willing [nephesh] that I should bury my dead out of my sight, hear me”); and later still, includes the emotions (“Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you [lit. ‘your soul’; nephesh] may bless me”). The “soul” is therefore the place in living beings which forms intentions and expresses favor or disfavor. This becomes even more evident in the final chapters of Genesis (“And his soul [nephesh] was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her”). Strong’s defines “soul” as “life”, but also “person or individual”, “seat of the appetites” and “activity of the mind, will and character”. The soul is not just quality of being alive, but the distinct, individual self, the unique combination of personality conferred by genetics, character shaped by upbringing, and the transformative action of the Holy Spirit of God which is at work in us now and may change us in the future in ways we cannot currently imagine.

    There is compelling evidence that tamed and tameable animals possess wills, character and emotions, or at least the appearance of same. It is the very act of taming that produces the animal equivalent of character. If they do not in fact possess selves, we are certainly not equipped to cavalierly dismiss the possibility. Thus, I conclude that animals very probably do have “souls” in the biblical sense of the word. Moreover, if that is the case, it also follows that merely possessing a soul does not precisely equate to being made in the image of God. That phrase denotes something more profound, most of which I have yet to truly grasp.
Tagging Along Behind Lewis ... with Qualifications

In short, then, despite a couple of minor differences with Lewis, I find myself a lot closer to him in my thinking than to many other commentators.

So will I see my dog or cat in eternity? I believe there’s a fair chance, but have to confess that I simply don’t know for sure. I do know that “No good thing does the Lord God withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

That will do just fine for now.

1 comment :

  1. As always I am not shy about relying on actual testimonials from those who had NDE experiences since they are mostly provided by capable people (and nowadays are confirmed by extensive specialized medical research). Based on that, animals (mostly pets) are indeed reported to be in the hereafter.