You are currently browsing the daily archive for May 11, 2011.

We are in an era when animals are becoming equal to humans within social constructs and, in some cases, within the law.

Many Christians wonder — and hope — that they will be able to be reunited with their pets in Heaven. (Photo of the adorable basset hound comes courtesy of sharenator.com.) This was less the case when I was growing up and I recall being chewed out in class by a (politically liberal) nun who said uncategorically that pets would not inherit eternal life.  My dad had told me that pets went to Heaven, but after this incident said that he was just trying to make me feel better about animals when they died. Needless to say, in the 1960s, this created a bit of a flap at the next private parent-teacher meeting.  ‘Is that what you’re teaching Churchmouse?  The Catholic Church does not teach that — anywhere.  Animals do not have souls.’

Today, I imagine the dialogue in the classroom and with parents is quite different, adopting the zeitgeist of equality of all things.

Below are statements from the main Protestant denominations on animals and heaven. Emphases mine.

The clearest statement comes from the United Methodist Church.  The Revd Dan Benedict of the Center for Worship Resources and General Board of Discipleship states:

With other Catholic and Protestant denominations, we United Methodists do not teach that animals have souls and therefore need redemption and forgiveness or heaven in the same way that humans do.

However, we do teach that “All creation is the Lord’s, and therefore we are responsible for the ways in which we use or abuse it [including the animals and diverse forms of life on the planet].” (¶ 160, 2004 Book of Discipline)

Further, “We support regulations that protect the life and health of animals, including those ensuring the humane treatment of pets and other domestic animals, animals used in research, and the painless slaughtering of meat animals, fish, and fowl. We encourage the preservation of all animal species including those threatened with extinction.”  (¶ 160C, 2004 Book of Discipline)

We include in our Book of Worship a liturgy for the blessing of animals and we see animals as companions and “friends” to humans and believe that all of them belong to God.

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) states (citing the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or WELS):

In the “Q&A” column of the January 1995 issue of the Northwestern Lutheran (the official periodical of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod), Rev. John Brug gives the following helpful response to the question, “Will there be animals in heaven?”

Since animals do not have immortal souls, we might think the answer is no. Several facts, however, make one hesitant to be satisfied with a simple “no.” Our eternal home is a new earth (Isaiah 65:17ff, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1). Isaiah 65:25 speaks of it as a place in which the wolf and the lamb live together peacefully.

This may be figurative language, but one other passage suggests animals might be in our eternal home.  Romans 8:21 says that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage.” In this present, sin-cursed world, we inflict suffering on animals, and they inflict suffering on us. At Christ’s coming, when this world is freed from the effects of sin, animals, too, will be freed from suffering.

That text also says the creation will be “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” That might mean there may be plants and animals in the new earth as there were in the first earth. If there are animals on the new earth, they will be good creatures of God as the animals of the first earth were.

In short, the answer is a cautious “maybe.”

Lutheran pet owner and LCMS pastor, the Revd Walter Snyder, elaborates:

We do know that humans are the only creatures on earth who were made in the image of God. This sets us apart from the animals more than logic, planning for the future, or anything else that behavioral scientists and biologists might indicate.

Perhaps heaven will have its share of animals. Still, the only “animal” definitely mentioned in heaven is the Lamb — who is, of course, Jesus Christ. I guess that you could also say that the “sheep” get to heaven, while the “goats” are definitely culled out. We do know that a new heaven and a new earth will be established. How the new life will be populated — except for God, the heavenly beings, and the saints who were saved by faith in Christ — we aren’t told. It could be that earthly animals will be replaced by something else altogether. Maybe only certain creatures will be introduced into the new creation.

It may be that animals, while they glorify God by their very existence on earth, are destined to pass away at the end of time. Pets may be part of God’s providence to a world filled with sin and sorrow.

A 2005 paper from a Reformed (Calvinist) author, Johan Tangelder, explores this question in detail:

[page 3] The humanization of animals and the belief that they go to heaven raises many questions. Historically, people didn’t always view animals in a positive light. Negative qualities of animals are often mentioned in reference to humans such as “as evil as a hyena,” “as sly as a fox.” In the early fourteenth century, Dante had condemned to the eighth circle of his Hell those guilty of “the sins of the wolf”: seducers, hypocrites, conjurers, thieves and liars. In the Bible there is also a reference to animals capable of being possessed by an evil spirit. For example, Jesus allowed demons to enter a herd of pigs who rushed into the lake and were drowned (Mark 5:1-13).

[page 4] Man can verbalize his thoughts in speech. The uniqueness of human language reveals man’s intellect, will, emotion and general ideas about space and time, and abstract concepts. It is man’s key to communicate concerning the past, the present and the future. Calvin brings human speech in its proper Biblical framework. He notes, “The use of the tongue and ears is to lead us into the truth by means of God’s Word that we may know how we were created incorruptible and that when we are passed out of this world there is an heritage prepared for us above, and in short to bring us to God.”

the Bible does not say that animals have souls. But neither does the Bible deny this. The question whether animals have a soul is not new. The medieval theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/5-74), decreed animals were soulless, and graded them according to their utility to people. Wolves, bears, hairy beasts, useless to human comfort, were demonic. The twentieth century Reformed theologian, R.C. Sproul, observes: “Traditionally many have been persuaded that there is no future life for animals. The Bible does not teach that animals go to heaven. One of the key arguments against the idea that animals do not survive the grave is the conviction that animals do not have souls. Many are convinced that the distinctive aspect that divides humans from animals is that humans have souls and animals do not.”

Will animals be with the Lord in the intermediate heaven, the stage of eternal life before the coming of the New Heaven and Earth? An animal is not religious. Man is incurably religious. Even in his denial of God, man struggles with the God question … “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Our Lord Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). These texts do not include animals being drawn to the Father through Jesus Christ. Only man is capable of having a personal relationship with the infinite personal triune God.

[page 5] The Bible affirms the dignity of man. Man is sharply distinguished from the rest of God’s creation. He is unique! He has a very special place in God’s creation. Nothing in creation can be greater or have more dignity than man, for God alone is greater (Ps. 8). Man is neither junk nor animal. He is different from all other creatures; he is created in the very image of God. Man, as God’s image bearer, is elevated above animals and destined to have dominion over all the world (Gen.1:16, Ps. 8:5-9). Of all God’s acts of creation recorded in Scripture, this is the only one preceded by the statement that God, as it were consulted Himself, before acting, “And God said, ‘Let us make man'”, (Gen. 1:26). This formal fact, alone, is of great importance because it shows that this creative act differs from all the others. It is the fact that God created only man and woman in His image and likeness (vv.16-27). In the New Testament mankind is also referred to as being “made in God’s likeness” (Jam. 3:9). The apostle Paul describes Christ as the perfect image of God. He says, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18) …

Scripture also shows that people are allowed to use animals as work animals and for food (Gen. 9:3). Man is the scientist at work in God’s laboratory – earth. People may speculate whether animals go to heaven. But Scripture shows that the world is to be understood only in relation to man. Calvin notes, “The Lord Himself by the very order of creation has demonstrated that He created all things for the sake of man.” The world created and endowed as a habitation for man in such a way as to serve his true destiny in the worship and adoration of God. The first question of The Westminister Larger Catechism asks, “What is the chief and highest end of man” The answer? “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully enjoy him for ever.”

[page 6] Isaiah anticipates an eternal Kingdom of God on the new earth. He describes the glorious future which God’s people prayerfully and eagerly anticipate. He points to a time of the renewal of the old paradise where predator and prey will lie down together and be at peace. “‘The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox…They will neither harm nor destroy in all my holy mountains,’ says the Lord” (Isa. 65:25).

Will there be animals on this new world? Apparently there will be plants, rocks, trees and animals on the new earth. But ask what it will be like, we cannot say because Scripture has not revealed it to us.

Charles Colson, representing the Evangelical perspective, observes and warns us about taking empathy for animals further than we should:

Five years ago I warned … about an aggressive animal-rights movement that seeks to blur the distinction between animals and humans. Since then it has gained steam, even unwittingly drawing some Christians into its orbit.

I know of a Bible study group in Los Angeles that recently laid hands on a sick dog, praying God would heal her—and if not, receive her into heaven. A Christian veterinarian administers healing sessions for patients. And dozens of websites offer biblical “proof” that animals are resurrected, as if Christ’s atonement somehow included them …

Of course, Christians have a specific command to care for the creation. Genesis records that God, after forming every living creature and calling this “good,” entrusts to Adam the task of ruling over them in a responsible way … we should delight in the unique joy that animals bring, and support the work of local shelters that care for abused and abandoned animals …

Christianity teaches that humans are unique in all of creation: we are conscious of our existence, aware of death, capable of works of great creativity, and the only part of creation that bears the image of God. Humans alone have eternal souls, which confers unique moral status.

Many animal-rights activists dismiss any distinctions between humans and animals as “speciesism,” which Princeton professor Peter Singer defines as “a prejudice” that favors “the interests of members of one’s own species … against those of members of other species” …

The Scriptures tell us that animals are soulless creatures, and will perish with the rest of creation. We will not see them while our souls rest with God; when Christ returns and our bodies are resurrected, we will live in the new heavens and new earth—where there may be new, not resurrected, animals.

If we fail to understand our own doctrines, more and more Americans will begin to accept the idea that animals and humans are morally equivalent—and animal-rights activists may press on to their ultimate goals: eliminating animal agriculture and banning scientific research that uses animals—jeopardizing the development of life-saving medicines. And, as Singer proposes in his utilitarian system of ethics, activists would seek to allocate scarce resources fairly among animals and humans. (Fido’s operation will create greater happiness than keeping Uncle Ben on life support.) …

An Orthodox perspective briefly reviews the above points and adds:

When the holy God-seer Moses wrote that we were created by God in His “image and likeness,” it means that God shared with us some of His own characteristics (some actual, some potential), one of which is immortality. I’m sure that your pet is wonderful (mine was!), but you are more than wonderful — you are a child of God, created in His own image and likeness, created to share immortal life with Him in His kingdom.

In closing, this is what one EpiscopalianVeronique — says, which is pertinent to those who are upset at the thought they might never see their pet again after it dies:

God will make us perfectly happy by the perfect relationship we will enjoy with him; the need of companionship that we have on earth, and that may be filled by a pet here (or a plant), will be completely fulfilled in our perfect communion with God.  As someone else said, whatever is not there will not be missed.

Tomorrow: Christians and meat

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