“Brother Jon, will Butch go to heaven?”
“Pastor, will I ever see Fluffy again?”
I’ve been asked these kinds of questions many, many times over the years as Bible teacher and as a pastor, by both children and adults; and I pray that my answers in the last several years have been helpful, as I do pray that what I write now, will be edifying to the body of Christ and glorifying to the Lord.
We know that God cares for the animals He has created. We are told in the Scriptures that God “giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry” (Psalm 147:9). Jesus also speaks of the heavenly Father’s care, concern and provision for ravens (Luke 12:24) and the fowls of the air (Matthew 6:26). Though all of humanity thought and practiced wickedness at one early point in human history (Genesis 6:5), when God destroyed all the wicked upon the earth with a flood, He saved every kind of animal through Noah and his family (Genesis 6:14-22).
Therefore, with that kind of great care, concern, compassion, and provision for the animals, it would seem that God would desire that kind of compassion from mankind for animals as well: and He does, as it is written, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel” (Proverbs 12:10, ESV). With regard to the treatment of animals and the salvation of man, we want to be careful with this verse and ensure that we are not using the concern for animals as an indicator of a saved and regenerate life. If a soul is truly saved by the grace of God, clothed in Christ’s righteousness, they will have concern for animals, particularly the domesticated ones that belong to them. Yet, even the wicked would have an appearance of pity and mercy, but compared to the holy righteousness of Christ, it is evil and cruel in the site of God. The inconsistency of such reprobate behavior can be seen in many of those who contend for animal rights with violence, and possibly even be supporters of abortion.
Often, the answers to the question concerning the eternal destiny of our pets is typically very brief, even curt, regardless of what side of the issue the commentator takes. Dr. Harry Ironsides has been quoted as saying, “Well, my dog is going to be there, and I don’t care what anybody says.” Those on the other side of the issue may simply say, “They do not have spirits. They have bodies and they have instinct, and there’s a great difference.” (online source)
I’m not willing to just throw out a brief answer for a question like this, for several reasons; but I will only give two of the most important: (1) that children typically are the ones that ask this question, and we, as Christian parents should give them every possible moment we can to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and (2) there are far greater issues at stake, and as a result we miss the opportunity to bring God great glory, to edify others, and to grow in grace and be strengthened in faith ourselves. These two reasons are why I pray you bear a little longer with me.
To simply dismiss animals as having no souls is a bit simplistic and lacks some scriptural depth (and I write this with all humility and with the greatest respect for those who have treated the issue in this manner, as even the link I’ve provided above are the thoughts of men with a much greater scholastic aptitude than I could ever hope to have). The same expression, “living soul” that is used of Adam when the LORD God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7) is used of animals, as the Scripture calls them “living creatures” (Genesis 1:21, 24; 2:19; 9:10, 12, 15).[i] Now, one might argue that the animals don’t have a soul that can reason and rationalize, just as we have scripture proofs to support Christ’s humanity as being, not only that of flesh and blood, but also taking upon Himself a real rational soul (Isaiah 53:10; Matthew 26:38; & Isaiah 1:18 implies the reason of the human soul as well). Yet, though I personally believe that animals are sentient beings, created with instincts, &etc., I’m not willing to suggest that there is no reason within animals altogether. That kind of strict dogmatic reason creates a difficulty in our Biblical thinking. The serpent, you may recall, was more crafty (subtil, KJV) than all the beasts of the field (Genesis 3:1). The word “crafty” is a Hebrew word that is both used of wisdom in both a positive way as well as negative. We also have a New Testament idiom from the Lord Christ when He tells His disciples to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Further, we have the episode of Balaam’s donkey in Numbers 22 when the LORD opened the mouth of the animal and it spoke with rational, reasonable and conversational dialogue with its owner (Numbers 22:28-30).
Though I have offered these scriptural examples of a possibility of a reasonable soul in animals, I’m not suggesting that animals have that reasonable soul either. These may have been isolated incidents and circumstances overseen by the providence of a sovereign God. With this, I truly want us to approach this issue very Biblically, and most especially in a way that is Christ-centered, Christ-exalted, and gospel saturated.
Do our pets go to heaven? On that in particular the Bible is silent. It is an issue that hasn’t been revealed to us in or through the pages of Scripture, and to give an answer that either says “yes” or “no” has gone beyond our scope as pastors, preachers, teachers, and parents. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV).
Then why is it, someone may ask, that so many children, and even adults, want to know about their pets going to heaven? I believe that the question itself presents an awesome opportunity to glorify God in Christ Jesus.
First of all, it is not uncommon to hear of a family pet having ulcers, some kind of cancer, or another disease that is typically common for humans. I know of many such instances. And typically, through that dying pet, the family is drawn even closer to the animal as they care for it and nurture it. The reality of that circumstance expresses the truth that the fall in Adam was certainly universal. When Adam disobeyed God by partaking of the forbidden tree and eating the forbidden fruit, it presents that sin not only corrupted the entire human race, but it also affected the entire planet, including every creature upon that planet. It not only brought floods, typhoons, hurricanes and earthquakes, to the inanimate world, but it also brought death and disease upon every living creature, including cancer upon a family dog. Romans 8:19-23 says,
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (ESV).
Certainly, this portion of Romans 8 is poetical language to express the reality of the bondage and corruption the created world has been under since the fall, because rocks and trees and the sky are not awaiting the coming of the Lord in His ultimate consummation of all things; yet, it doesn’t remove the truth that the planet and every creature upon it has been corrupted by one man’s disobedience either (Romans 5:12, 19; 1 Corinthians 15:22).
Next, the Scriptures declare that God is holy, good and just. He is also and simultaneously merciful, compassionate, and full of grace. It is throughout the Bible and what’s more, the greatest and most awesome manifestation of God’s character is revealed in the Person of God’s one and only, eternal Son, Jesus Christ. That God is merciful is evidenced by His sending His Son; that God is just is evidenced by His pouring out His unbridled wrath for sin upon a pure and precious Substitute.
[For a condensed version of the GOSPEL OF CHRIST, you might like to read the link titled “The Gospel,” found in our main menu, just under the blog header above; or you may CLICK HERE to open a new window.]
Because of who Jesus Christ is in His holiness and splendor, and because of the purity, preciousness, and power of what He has done as God’s atoning sacrifice, when our spiritual eyes are upon that cross, so to speak, upon His death, burial, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of Majesty on high, our souls should be awakened to the truth that if we have been saved by God’s grace, and that the only thing that makes heaven the joyful and glorious place that it is, is because of the one whose presence is all-glorious, Jesus Christ. Our desire for heaven should only be a desire for Him.
I don’t know how many funerals I’ve gone to or ministered for when some sweet person, with every good intention and sentiment in the wide world has come to me and said, “Oh, I can’t wait to get to heaven to see” so-and-so… you name it, Uncle Abe or Aunt Mary or Grandma Lois. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve grimaced with sorrow of heart over a pastor from the pulpit saying, “When I get to heaven, I’d sure like to meet ____________…” You can fill in the blank with the name of someone from the Bible, or even someone whose name isn’t in the Bible: Abraham, Moses, or Paul are often candidates. King David is often used as the name that has filled the blank “because he was a man after God’s own heart,” they say.
When I was a pastor in the Yup’ik village of Scammon Bay in Alaska, two boys of our church had drowned in the Kun River. Several people said to me, “Oh, I’m sure they’re looking down at us from heaven.” Though I was as gentle as I could be, I did rebuke them with tears, saying, “Oh, dear friend, do you think that Jesus Christ is so common, or worse, so repulsive that a person can just turn away from the glorious King of kings in order to look down at the balls of mud that are still here on this corrupt planet. No. If they are in heaven, they are filled with the fullness of joy in His presence and they will not turn to the left or to the right.”
It’s not that we have a poor view of heaven, but because of the corruptions of our flesh, we have such lowly and insufficient view of our Master and Redeemer. Every situation and circumstance in the lives of believing saints is a providential opportunity to glorify God in the exaltation of Christ, so that we might draw nearer to Him, be conformed to His image, and walk in a way that is pleasing to God. Christ is everything; and if we have not Jesus Christ, we have nothing.
Finally, God is not only good, but He is also infinitely wise, far wiser than an infinite number of created universes placed together: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).
Though we can see some of the fruit, some of the evidence that the soul of a particular friend or loved one may be saved, we really can’t know for sure. The only salvation we can be certain of is our own through the testimony of scripture. So when someone dies who may or may not be saved, we must simply trust in God that He is all-wise and is infinitely good; that He will always do that which is holy and just. We would certainly have to take that approach with infants who die in infancy. Will they go to heaven? We do know that they were conceived in sin and born in iniquity (Psalm 51:5). Or has God’s grace been extended to elect infants? Do the scripture proofs in Luke 18, John 3, Acts 2 from the Westminster Confession and the 1689 London Baptist Confession provide sufficient evidence that there are “elect infants”? Some may even point to the scripture with regard to David’s utterance over the death of his infant son through his adulterous affair with Bathsheba as an indication that the baby went to heaven (2 Samuel 12:23). Did he or didn’t he? There are scholarly men that have answered that issue on both sides of the table; and though the Scripture proofs may not be absolutely clear, they have formed their opinions, and I’m not troubled that they have done so. I personally place my humble opinion in the very certain “I don’t know” category because the Scriptures are not clear enough for me to be that dogmatic or definitive about it. Is that a problem? I think not, and I believe that you might agree as well when you read my concluding remarks.
There are certainly truths we can know absolutely from scripture: man is fallen; he is in need of a Savior; &etc. There are certainly infinite truths that we can know absolutely but cannot reconcile in our finite understanding, such as the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. There are certainly truths that are so far above us that we cannot know them or understand them, such as the peace that surpasses understanding and the love of God that surpasses knowledge. Finally, there are truths of God that simply have not been revealed to us.
If even the death of infants is something that cannot be known in absolute certainty when there are at least some scripture proofs that might allude to a saving disposition for at least some, then it cannot be known for a certainty about animals when there is silence from God about the subject altogether.
What does that answer do for us? It places us where we need to be always, embracing God’s grace, clinging to the cross of Christ, and cleaving to Jesus Christ alone in utter trust in all things. We may not have the answer to many things, but knowing Christ build’s trust in God, grows us in grace, and strengthens us in faith. As Ezekiel was shown the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:3, and the LORD said to him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” What was Ezekiel’s response? “O Lord GOD, thou knowest.”
Child of God, has this departed loved one passed through the veil to enjoy the presence of Christ? Lord GOD, You know.
Saint in Christ, will this infant behold My glory in eternity? Lord GOD, You know.
Beloved child, will your family pet be in heaven when he dies? Oh, mighty Lord God, wise and good, You know.
[i] Nephesh Chay’ah[Note]: This article was originally written by Jon Cardwell several years ago, while ministering in Alaska. It was updated, which included a paragraph on Scammon Bay, Alaska, appearing several years later when it was published on Jon’s blog, Justification by Grace, April 9, 2010.