Do pets go to heaven? I know people from all sorts of backgrounds, alternative religions and spiritual backgrounds who love their animal companions. Yet the gospel of Rainbow Bridge certainly isn't in the Bible or any other religion's teachings that I'm aware.Actually, the sacred book of the Zorastrians (559 BC--651 AC) the Avesta tells of a rainbow bridge guarded by a yellow-eared dog whose bark drives out the fiend from the souls of the good. According to one source, Zoroaster was the first to teach the doctrines of an individual judgment, Heaven and Hell, the future resurrection of the body, the general Last Judgment, and life everlasting for the reunited soul and body. Hmnnn. But today, some folks' view of heaven and salvation excludes a good portion of the world's population--heaven forbid (literally!) that pets merit an afterlife in paradise--that animals don't have souls. Yet religious leaders throughout history around the world have not only respected, but cherished animals. Muhammad preached with a cat in his arms, and was said to have cut off the sleeve of his coat to avoid disturbing the slumbers of his cat Muezza sleeping on it.
Among Catholics, Pope Leo XII (1823-29) kept a large cat named Micetto, and even made arrangements in his will for the cat's care after his death. Pope Pius IX (1846-78) also had a pet cat.
Whatever your religion or belief system, I suspect pet lovers agree that our companion animals are a gift to us. They show us unconditional love, greet us enthusiastically, forgive us without reservation, and (dare I say?) offer a role model of how to live life to the fullest. God may have given mankind dominion over the animals, but He gave pets dominion over our hearts.
I asked Rev. Craig M. Sturm of Trinity Lutheran Church if pets go to heaven. And the results was the following sermon (based on passages of the Scripture that speak of animals) which he graciously has allowed me to share.
Do Pets Go to Heaven?
It is a question that probably enters the mind of every pet owner, especially when a beloved pet companion dies. “Do animals go to heaven?” We develop strong bonds and have emotional attachments to our pets. They become part of our families. Many believe our pets are gifts to us from God. One pet lover once told me that he is just as likely to encounter God’s presence in a cat or dog as a human being. And the fact that pets have personalities and feelings, the fact that they can think and reason, it is understandable why we ask the faith question, “Do animals go to heaven when they die?”
It was Will Rogers who said, “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
An ABC news poll showed that 47 percent of American pet owners do believe that their pets go to heaven; 35 percent said, “No.” But anytime we ask a question of faith, it is not so important to know what you or I might believe, but rather we need to know what God says in the Holy Scriptures. As my professor used to say, “We all have an opinion, but it’s God’s opinion that really matters.”
The Bible and Animals
And so I combed through the entire Bible looking for what God has to say about animals going to heaven. I wish that I could quote a specific verse that would assure all of us that when our furry friends die, they are welcomed into heaven. Unfortunately, that prize verse just ain’t there. But, as I scoured the Scriptures, I was amazed at what the Bible did say about God’s relationship with animals. When we look closely at the entire biblical message, something emerges that gives us some insight into what God’s intentions are for animals after they die.
The Scripture [has] many passages where animals appear. If we start with the creation accounts in Genesis, we learn that God didn’t create everything at once. Different parts of creation were brought into being at different times. First light, then water, land, vegetation, and so on.
Then God created every kind of land animal (including cats, dogs, bunnies, gerbils, etc.) and human beings. Together, on the same day, and in the same way (from the soil of the earth), God created animals and humans. So there is a sense that God intended furry creatures and humans to be companions for one another. But was this bond intended just for earth or for all eternity in heaven? That’s the question.
Garden of Eden and Animals
Biblical scholars tell us that the Garden of Eden is meant to represent God’s heavenly paradise. It represents the world God intended all along. When God created everything in the Garden, God looked upon it and said that it was good. “This is life the way I intended it to be,” God said. Humans and animals and plants all living together in perfect harmony.
There were many different parts of creation, each one significant and important to God’s complete blueprint for life. To take away any one part of God’s whole creation is to make God’s kingdom incomplete.
In the concluding chapters of the book of Revelation, the Bible speaks of Christ’s second coming as restoring the world back to the Garden of Eden. So, once again, the Garden of Eden serves as the paradigm for what God intended his kingdom to be. And the very fact that the Garden of Eden was populated with animals, there is precedence, I believe, to claim that animals will be in heaven.
In the 8th chapter of Romans, St. Paul speaks of ALL creation eagerly waiting for that future day when God will reveal his glory. ALL creation, Paul says, drawing our attention back to the Garden of Eden. Not only humans, but all living things eagerly anticipating being in the presence of God’s glory, experiencing that perfect paradise where there is freedom from sickness and death and want.
Martin Luther, the great theologian and reformer of the church, once said, “In the Garden of Eden there was complete harmony between humans and animals. One day again that harmony will be restored and all creation will be alive in Christ.” Luther, the great scholar of the Bible, believed that animals would be in heaven. “Animals belong to God,” Luther said. “And if they belong to God, they are held safely in the palm of God’s hand – in this world and in the world to come.” Legend has it that when Luther’s beloved dog was close to death, Luther took the dog in his arms and Martin Luther said, "Be comforted, little dog, thou too in the Resurrection, shall have a little golden tail."
The story of Noah also sheds some light on the importance animals have in God’s kingdom. Before the great flood, God instructed Noah to build an ark big enough to house not only his own family, but every kind of animal on earth as well. When God was planning to wipe out all of creation and start over, for some reason, God decided to save the animals from eternal death. The Bible doesn’t give us a reason for God’s decision. We simply know that animals were a part of God’s redemptive plan for the world.
The Bible often uses animals to help us better understand what heaven will be like. In one of the most beautiful chapters of the Bible, Isaiah writes, “In the day of the Lord, the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all. The cow will graze near the bear. The cub and the calf will lie down together. The lion will eat hay like a cow. The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra. Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm. Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”
It is a beautiful, comforting image. And it gives us pet lovers hope that even the animals are not beyond God’s love and salvation. A place without animals would be a lonely one; heaven without pets would be less heavenly.
What Is Heaven Like?
The very last chapter of the Bible describes what heaven will be like. The angels show us clear crystal streams with abundant fruit trees. It is the most beautiful oasis you have ever seen. It is not difficult to imagine beautiful birds singing in the trees, butterflies fluttering through the fields of flowers, our furry friends underfoot.
Although there is not that one verse of Scripture that promises our pets will go to heaven, there are so many clues that God the loving Creator envisions all of his creatures enjoying heaven with him forever.
“I hereby confirm my covenant with you and with every animal on earth,” God says. “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant I have made with every living creature on earth.”
Thanks be to God! Amen.
© 2008 Rev. Craig M. Sturm