Do Pets Go to Heaven?
Do Pets Go to Heaven?
Many of Us Hope So
Wesley Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism and author of A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement (Encounter, 2010).
We have come a long way since Descartes claimed that animals are mere automatons without the capacity for pleasure or pain. We now know the contrary is true: They experience. They suffer. They grieve. They love.
When it comes to our relationships with pets, we not only take them into our homes: We welcome them deep within our hearts. In fact, some become so attached that they yearn to be with their pets throughout eternity. C. S. Lewis speculated on the eternal fate of animals in The Problem of Pain, suggesting that at least tame animals might enter heaven through their relationship with humans, in the same way that humans do through their relationship with Christ.
But I worry that the question of pets in heaven could distort our understanding of eternal life as described in Scripture and Christian tradition. If we are not careful, we could cross the line into a sentimentality that shrinks our eschatological expectation. Our human idea of heaven might be walking an adored dog in the forest, but there is no indication that is anything like God's plan. The question of whether our pets go to heaven requires an examination of the natures of animals, of humans, and of God. Animals have their lives in God. In Psalm 104 we read that animals look to God for their food and that when he withdraws his spirit, they return to the dust. God marks the dropping of every sparrow.
But John 3:16 makes no mention of animals. Only humans are made in the divine likeness. Unlike animals, we are moral agents capable of sinning by commission and omission. That makes ours a completely different nature of being.
Here's an illustration: My late cat once raided a nest and I found her happily batting a helpless, now dying chick around the backyard. She was just being a cat. Had I done that, I would be rightly branded a monster. I also knew my human duty. I put the poor chick out of its misery with a heavy work boot and removed the carcass. Doing the right thing came at a cost: Chloe was so angry I spoiled her fun that she refused to look at me for the rest of the day.
God's love is unlimited, unconditional, and eternal. When we witness the very face of God and participate through constant worship in his ineffable essence—which we are told is the neverending activity of heaven—it will at the very least include all we yearn for when desiring to be with our pets forever.
So do pets have souls? Do they go to heaven? God knows. For now, "we see through a glass darkly." Instead of speculating or making strained proof-texts, let us instead give thanks to God for the great gift of joy he has given us in our pets. Let us be confident in the knowledge that whatever his plans for our animal friends, all will be perfection and light.
Via the Covenant
Karen Swallow Prior is a professor at Liberty University and has written on animal welfare for CT's Her.meneutics blog and other publications.
When I was young and gnostic, I was certain that pets do not go to heaven. I didn't know I was gnostic, of course. I simply thought that life on earth was about bicycles and ice cream and books and not saying certain words or smoking behind the barn with my cousins.
Heaven was about being with God and angels singing and seeing great-grandma again and not being in hell.
You only got to heaven if you were saved, and I hadn't seen any animals go to church, let alone go forward during an altar call. In the old days, I was told, a nearby farmer used to ride his horse to church, where he'd hitch her up to the iron rail that still stood outside the one-room country church in Maine where my family worshiped. I never imagined a horse coming inside to get saved.