Off the top of my head I know my family has killed at least half a dozen dogs. Well, I say “killed,” but it’s really just that our land is cursed with the ability to drastically shorten any animal’s lifespan. Time would be too short to tell of the demise of Jax, Johnny Reb, Sadie, Rascal, and the others, not to mention our cats and their babies. This carries with it a small burden of sadness.
Given that pets are so beloved, and that as Christians we strongly believe that we will be reunited with our loved ones in eternity, it is only natural that people ask if our pets will accompany us. After all, who doesn’t want to console their child (or himself) with the thought that they will see Sparky again? So sometimes people ask, “Can animals go to heaven?”
Now, to our credit not many believers fool around with the idea that our animals will be in heaven like we will. But usually the argument goes something along the lines of “animals don’t have souls.” Even if true (that depends a lot on how you view soul, spirit, and consciousness), this probably isn’t the most relevant line of reasoning. There are two major factors being ignored here which I would like to highlight.
First, we should clarify what we mean by “heaven.” Remember, all, that we often conflate two different concepts when we use that word. Sometimes we mean the intermediate state, our being with God in Christ after our death but before the final resurrection. In this case, we can see clearly that, if an animal doesn’t have a soul, it could not be in “heaven,” because this heaven is (presumably) simply spiritual and the animal is strictly physical. But since that concept of animals is questionable anyway, I want to move on from that point.
We also use “heaven” to refer to the new creation after the Second Coming, when the heavens and the earth are restored, renewed, and perfected. This will be a truly physical place with some continuity between it and our present world. Naturally, there are almost certainly going to be animals there. Indeed, the Biblical descriptions of the Messiah’s kingdom (of which the new earth will be the final fulfillment) often include animals. But will these animals be resurrections of our own? Probably not, though it cannot be ruled out altogether. God is always a gracious and surprising God.
Secondly, we should remember why humans go to heaven and what distinguishes us from animals. The answer to this, most certainly, is Jesus Christ. In Jesus humanity is connected to God. Since He is both God and man, we humans have communion with God through Him. This is the basis for our salvation and for heaven. If we are to be part of heaven, it is because we have been united with the man Jesus, who is essentially united to God, and through whom we can be united to God.
For this reason, animals cannot play the same part in redemption. While it may or may not be that God will physically resurrect our pets as a gift to us in the new earth (this matter is nothing but speculation), we can be sure that animals have no essential communion with God. God did not become an animal. He did not incarnate as a dog, or a cat, or a platypus, or a yeti. There is nothing for the animals like the union between God and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore they have no inherent share in eternal life, heaven, or necessarily in the new creation. So when people ask, “Can animals go to heaven?” the answer is, for all intents and purposes, “no.” But that provides quite the in for explaining why and how we can through Jesus Christ.
Let us, therefore, be all the more joyful that out of all creatures, God has made us the objects of His love and brought us into fellowship with Him through His beloved Son. Amen.