Humorist Will Rogers said, “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” This statement was, of course, based on sentiment, not theology. However, it reflects something biblical: a God-given affection for animals. I’ve often thanked God for my golden retriever, who, when I was a boy, crawled into my sleeping bag as I lay in my backyard gazing up at the stars. Although I didn’t know God then, he touched my life through that dog. Nanci and I have experienced many hours of laughter and joy in animals.
Certainly people can go to unhealthy extremes with their animals. Still, though we understandably roll our eyes at pet psychologists or estates left to Siamese cats, we should ask ourselves why so many people find such companionship, solace, and joy in their pets. Is it because of sin? I believe it’s because of how God has made animals, and us.
That’s why the question of whether pets will be in Heaven is not, as some assume, stupid. Animals aren’t nearly as valuable as people, but God is their Maker and has touched many people’s lives through them. It would be simple for him to re-create a pet in Heaven if he wants to. He’s the giver of all good gifts, not the taker of them. If it would please us to have a pet restored to the New Earth, that may be sufficient reason. Consider parents who’ve acquired a pet because of their child’s request. God is better than we are at giving good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:9-11). And if we object that animals won’t make us happy in Heaven, we betray our Christoplatonism again—for by finding happiness in God’s creation, we will find happiness in him.
We know animals will be on the New Earth, which is a redeemed and renewed old Earth, in which animals had a prominent role. People will be resurrected to inhabit this world. As we saw, Romans 8:21-23 assumes animals as part of a suffering creation eagerly awaiting deliverance through humanity’s resurrection. This seems to require that some animals who lived, suffered, and died on the old Earth must be made whole on the New Earth. Wouldn’t some of those likely be our pets?
It seems God could do one of three things on the New Earth: (1) create entirely new animals; (2) bring back to life animals that have suffered in our present world, giving them immortal bodies (this could be re-creating, not necessarily resurrecting); (3) create some animals brand-new, “from scratch,” and bring back to life some old ones.
I’m avoiding the term resurrection for fear that it could lead to theological error that fails to recognize the fundamental differences between people and animals—something that certain “animal rights” advocates are guilty of. However, in the broad sense of the terms, the words redemption and resurrection can appropriately apply not only to mankind but also to Earth, vegetation, and animals. A resurrected field, meadow, flower, or animal, of course, would in no sense be equal to resurrected humans; it’s simply that just as Creation and the Fall rode on the coattails of mankind, so will redemption and resurrection.
In many of his writings, C. S. Lewis commented on the future of animals. He said, “It seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters. . . . Very few animals indeed, in their wild state, attain to a ‘self’ or ego. But if any do, and if it is agreeable to the goodness of God that they should live again, their immortality would also be related to man—not, this time, to individual masters, but to humanity.”296 In The Great Divorce, Lewis portrayed Sarah Smith, a woman ordinary on Earth, as great in Heaven. On Earth she loved both people and animals. In Heaven she’s surrounded by the very animals she cared for on Earth.
In her excellent book about Heaven, Joni Eareckson Tada says, “If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn’t surprise me. It would be just like Him. It would be totally in keeping with His generous character. . . . Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant in grace after grace. Of all the dazzling discoveries and ecstatic pleasures heaven will hold for us, the potential of seeing Scrappy would be pure whimsy—utterly, joyfully, surprisingly superfluous. . . . Heaven is going to be a place that will refract and reflect in as many ways as possible the goodness and joy of our great God, who delights in lavishing love on His children.” — Heaven (Randy Alcorn)