If you’ve ever lost a dog, cat or horse you loved, then you know too well that the death of an animal companion can be almost as devastating as the death of a family member.
Indeed, some pets are full-fledged members of the household.
When our family’s boxer, Max, was hit by a pickup truck some years ago, I mourned over him far longer and more deeply than I’ve grieved over many humans.
For those of us who believe in an afterlife, then, our losses raise the question: Will we see our pets again? Better said: Do dogs (and cats and beloved gerbils) go to heaven?
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I’d hasten to point out that no one knows exactly what the next world is like, given that we haven’t been there. So I’d suggest you greet all opinions on this subject, even from theological experts, with a measure of skepticism.
That caveat aside, many Christian thinkers, including some of the more serious ones, have taught that yes, animals will be present in the great beyond.
Recently, I did what all conscientious journalists do when they need answers to complex questions. I searched the internet.
In my defense, I tried to use some discernment; I discarded blogs that appeared to have been written by troubled people who probably wear tinfoil hats.
Still, in no time I pulled up articles about animals in the afterlife that had appeared in legitimate periodicals, including U.S. Catholic, Christianity Today and Psychology Today.
I also read treatises by scholarly clergy who had studied the subject.
The consensus, at least among my fellow Christians: There will be animals in heaven. And those animals might include your own deceased pets from Earth.
The authors I read cited religious thinkers including Isaiah, St. Paul, Martin Luther, John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, Billy Graham Pope Francis, all of whom expected, or in Graham and the pope’s cases do expect, animals to share the hereafter with us.
For instance, according to Shanna Johnson of U.S. Catholic, through the years, popes have held differing views about whether animals will enter heaven.
Pope John Paul II said yes. Pope Benedict XVI said no.
But Pope Francis has declared in a church statement called Laudato Si’ that dogs and other animal companions will join us on the other side.
Johnson called this “a hugely important statement for Fido and those who love him.”
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed — and the Bible itself implies — that heavenly animals, somewhat like redeemed humans, will be freed from the curse of sin that permeates our current, fallen world.
Thus, Fluffy won’t torture chipmunks for entertainment. Bowser won’t claw up carpets. Gentleness will reign.
Or, as the prophet Isaiah famously put it, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.”
Some Christians believe that heavenly animals will be as smart as earthly animals’ human masters supposedly are now. (That’s damning our late Max with faint praise, I’d think.)
Animals might even possess the ability to talk to us.
If there’s a recurring disagreement about pets in heaven, it might be less about whether animals will be there than about what kinds of animals.
That is, one Christian camp argues that earthly animals don’t possess souls. Lacking souls, they can’t live eternally. When they die, they’re just dead.
These folks tend to maintain we’ll have wonderful pets in eternity, but they’ll be of a different sort. God will replace our earthly animal friends with even better heavenly ones.
Another group says no, our pets in eternity could very well be improved incarnations of the same pets we’ve loved so much here.
Billy Graham apparently falls into this latter group. I saw several variations online of the same general quote attributed to him.
In essence, the quote went like this. God has prepared heaven for our ultimate happiness, Graham said. If it takes your dog being there for you to attain bliss — then your dog will be there.
I’m casting my vote with Graham.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.