Monday, December 5, 2011

Do All Dogs Really Go to Heaven? How Does God View the Loss of Our Pets?

Our youngest sister lost a beloved pet last evening. Cleo was a sweet soul, a blue-eyed, rolly-polly, husky-beagle mix with personality plus. Angie brought her to our house over the Thanksgiving weekend just over a week ago, and it broke our hearts to watch her roam from room to room searching for her best buddy, Andrew, who is now in the Marines. You see, she always remembered you no matter how long it had been, and she always met you with a smile. And we will all miss her.
Cleo getting a bath from
Andrew and Mom Litwiller --
not too happy, but compliant
Some people view the loss of the pets of others as a get-over-it-already kind of event. It was "just a dog" or "just a cat" or "just an iguana." But, to the pet owners, the ones who invested a portion of their lives and reaped the joys of companionship which only our co-created creatures can impart, it's a loss....a real and often heart wrenching loss. Perhaps this is how some people view it, but I truly believe God responds to this type of suffering in a much different way.
How embarrassing...
in front of God and everybody
In II Samuel 12 of the Bible, we find King David was in deep trouble. He was trying desperately to keep secret a whole host of unconscionable transgressions, which included covetousness, adultery, conspiracy, deceit, and murder. He thought he had it all covered up, but the God who intended to have mercy sent the prophet, Nathan, to bring it all out in the open. 
David's hardened heart could only be broken by the tale Nathan told:
There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: but the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. (II Samuel 12:1-6)
Though the first purpose of the story was to convict David of his sin, there is also one key principle we might glean from it concerning how God feels about the loss of our pets.
Rolly-Polly rolling
in the yard to get dry
First of all, it is important to understand that David's reaction to this parable is exactly how God Himself would have reacted. In Acts 13:22 it says David was a man after God's own heart. This means that how David felt about things was akin to how God felt about them. God's own heart was manifested in David's indignation over the treatment of this poor man in the loss of his dear pet. 
No doubt David had pet lambs over the many years he was a shepherd boy. He, too, may have allowed a lamb to eat from his own food, drink from his own cup, and sleep snuggled up with him on cold desert nights. I've known countless people who indulge their pets in just this way. They may even be derided for treating their animals as if they were their children. Yet, in this very story it says the lamb was like a daughter to this poor man.
Please consider that David didn't disgustingly retort "For crying out loud, IT WAS A SHEEP! Get OVER it." 
On the contrary, he was not only compassionate toward the poor man, but he was also FURIOUS with the perpetrator, even to the point of putting him to DEATH. The obvious charge was stealing, which resulted in the fine of four lambs being taken from the rich man's estate and given to the poor man. But, the sentence of death was for another charge, that of having no pity.
Therefore, it may be understood from this passage that pity flows from the heart of God toward those who have lost a dear pet. Webster's 1828 dictionary describes pity as "[T]he feeling or suffering of one person, excited by the distresses of another; sympathy with the grief or misery of another; compassion or fellow-suffering." Thus, as He commands us to do by Paul the Apostle in Romans 12:15, He weeps with those who weep. 
Heading for the shade
with ears flying....
Another example of the Lord having pity concerning the loss of animals is given in his rebuke against the prophet, Jonah.
Jonah had been sent to call the people of the city of Ninevah to repent of their wickedness before God or He must destroy them for it. You see, these were very cruel arch enemies of Jonah's own people. God had to use some extreme measures to get Jonah to preach to them [1], because he knew God meant to forgive them and turn away His judgment. Jonah was none too happy about this. So, after fulfilling his obligation to preach to them, he parked himself under a gourd vine for shade and watched for the destruction of the city just in case God changed His mind. When the gourd shriveled up and died, Jonah had his own little pity party, but God wasn't invited.
Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand [120,000] persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand [2]; and also much cattle? (Jonah 4:10, 11)
God rebuked Jonah not only for his lack of pity on the innocent children and disabled persons of Ninevah, but also on the flocks and herds which lived there. This is a point which is often overlooked when studying this book of the Bible, but I believe it points to the true heart of God in the death of His creatures, including pets.
...for one more
roll in the grass.
Furthermore, though there is no indication in Scripture that animals of any kind go to Heaven, there are still secret things about eternity which are not revealed to us. What we cannot know about our pet's afterlife, we can know for sure about that of those who truly love God: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (I Corinthians 2:9) It is entirely possible the New Heavens and New Earth could include pets identical in every way to those we loved so well on Earth. I wouldn't go so far as to say it is certain, but nothing is impossible with our Creator God.
Those who are grieving over the loss of a beloved pet may indeed find comfort in the One who lovingly gave the blessing of such a sweet companion and created that animal for the sole purpose of their enjoyment. Yet, only those who have been reconciled to God by turning away from their sins and believing they are forgiven through the only acceptable sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, will ever know the comfort of God in this world and all the hidden blessings of the next. If it is not so already, may His goodness lead to a right relationship with this compassionate Creator through His Son.
[1] If you never have, you simply must read this awesome story from the Bible found in the Old Testament book of Jonah.
[2] Most likely referring to infants, toddlers, and severely mentally challenged persons.