Growing up, my family always had pets. Dogs, cats, birds, fish, hamsters, ponies, spider monkeys – Ok, maybe not all of those; I mean, wouldn’t it be ridiculous to have a pet hamster?!
When one of them died, we lost a family member. Inevitably someone would ask, “Will we see her again in heaven?” It was then that I learned of “doggy heaven,” a place where dogs could run free without leashes and there would be no more fleas, no more fences, and no more mailmen trying to get into the house through the mail slot. Ah, if only I was a dog! Doggy heaven sounds like a doggone good place to be.
Just like the stories of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Beyonce’s pregnancy, I was skeptical. Was this just a place made up to comfort ignorant kids or will we get to see our beloved pets in heaven when we die?
Unfortunately the Bible doesn’t say much about this subject. Since the intended audience was humans, that makes sense, but since I loved my mutts and can’t really imagine being completely happy without them, I dug deep into the obscure passages with this question in mind.
Many people point to Ecclesiastes 3:19-21. “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” Many would say that this proves that people go to heaven (“rises upward”) and animals just cease to exist and go “down to the earth.” This passage doesn’t prove anything. Read the whole book! The writer is speculating. He is trying to find the meaning of life. He is looking for answers. He has tried everything he knows and still wonders if “all is vanity.” He asks “who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” because he doesn’t know. In other words, he is asking the same question we are; he is not answering any questions.
Isaiah gives us a picture describing a new heaven and a new earth in chapter 65, which is very similar to Revelation 21. “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65: 25) Some might say that this is all a metaphor, but the context seems more practical than metaphorical. In the new heaven there will be no more infant deaths or war or weeping. They will build houses and plant vineyards and reap their fruit rather than have someone else invade and take their houses and drink their wine. So when Isaiah speaks about wolves and lambs eating together rather than the wolves eating the lambs, it makes me think that this is literal rather than figurative.
The most compelling evidence to me of animals in heaven is Romans 8:19-23. “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Paul is talking about all of creation: animals, plants, water, everything that God created. When Adam sinned, creation was subjected to the consequences of “the curse,” which didn’t just increase the workload for men and pain in childbirth for women, but also affected snakes and the ground (“Cursed is the ground because of you” Genesis 3:17). So when Jesus comes back and the curse is lifted, the frustration and groanings that all humans and creation alike have experienced will end.
At first glance, I was suspicious. I’ve heard humans groan – like pretty much every time a politician speaks – but I have never heard creation groan. Or so I thought. But think about it. If you didn’t have a voice box, then you couldn’t groan and make the sound that we would expect to hear. But the absence of a voice box doesn’t mean that you can’t groan. In the same way, creation is groaning all the time, but we cannot perceive it because it doesn’t have a voice.
So what does creation’s groan sound like? Every earthquake is a groan. Every hurricane is a groan. Every wildfire, mudslide, flood, tsunami, tornado, and blizzard is a manifestation of the groaning of creation over the oppression that it feels from the curse of sin and death placed upon it after Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Douglas Moo defines the groans as “frustration at the remaining moral and physical infirmities that are inevitably a part of this” life. (The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, p.519)
Just as creation groans, so do we. We “groan inwardly” every time we get sick or a loved one dies or innocent boys are molested or a miscarriage of justice occurs. We eagerly await the day when none of these things plague us anymore. And so does all of creation.
For those who are still not convinced, ask yourself this: where do all the animals, precious stones, gold, and fruit mentioned in Isaiah 65 and Revelation 21 -22 come from? Will God create all new ones or will He redeem them when He officially adopts us as children of God on Judgment Day?
Both creation and humans have been groaning for the day when the curse is lifted and all are finally free; it stands to reason that all of creation will be in heaven with us. And since creation was subjected to the curse through no fault of its own, it will also benefit from the lifting of the curse. Why would creation groan for something that leads to its immediate destruction? (which would be the case if the final judgment only applied to humans)
Next time you groan, try not to dwell on what made you groan; try to dwell on the One who made you and made your pets and created all of creation and made it possible to see each other again one day.