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A Frequent Question Middle Schoolers Ask: Is My Pet Going To Heaven?

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I will never forget a particular prayer request I received once at the end of a middle school youth group.  An 8th grade guy nervously raised his hand, requesting that we pray for him because his cat had died earlier that day.  As he was sharing his request, he started crying–very intensely.  I could sense that this 8th grade student was literally destroyed because his little cat had died.  He wanted God to not only heal is pain, but also to know if he would ever see his cat again.  I was so moved by his sincerity that I couldn’t help but get a little emotional as well.

And then, 3 weeks later…

We had a question and answer night during youth group and guess what was the most frequently asked question was?

Do animals go to heaven?

After these 2 episodes, I was determined to explore why teens care so much for animals.  Here are a few of my brief observations as to why animals/pets have such a huge impact on teens:

–  pets unconditionally love, accept and play with their teenage owners even if the teens are awkward and smelly.
– many animated movies use animals to connect with early adolescents.  For example:  Finding Nemo, Lady and the Tramp, Ratatouille, Bolt, Jungle Book, Dumbo101 Dalmatians, Bambi, The Fox and the Hound, Lion King, Open Season and Lion, Witch and The Wardrobe (the list goes on and on).  So, the desire to care for and connect with animals has been engrained in the minds of children and adolescents in our culture through movies.
– pets have grown up with their teenager owners. Essentially the pets have journeyed with them through the good, bad and awkward years.  So the pets represent consistency, safety and unconditional companionship.

My theological answer: Your pet, because it doesn’t have a soul, does not go to heaven but……………  I feel like there is more of an ethical piece that early to mid adolescents are wanting to explore.  My middle school students wanted to know how they could protect animals here and now so I had to do a bit of research to figure out how other Christian scholars would address this question without being insensitive or inhumane.  So who do I turn to?

CS LEWIS.

Lewis had such a huge love for animals.

Wheaton scholar, Dr. Jerry Root , investigates a lot of Lewis’s work to make a case for human responsibility for animals.  Root concludes that Lewis does not believe animals exhibit signs of possessing a soul or self consciousness, therefore they cannot experience eternal life.  Although Lewis always stressed a very serious attention to the matter of sharing life with animals on this planet and the human responsibility to care for and love them.   Lewis had the same affinity for animals as today’s teenagers.  Today’s teens are wanting to know that God cares for animals just as much as they do.

My point:  It is undeniable that early adolescents have a natural affinity for animals.  Teens care for and are deeply compassionate towards animals.  So it may be wise for youth groups to capitalize on this opportunity.  In fact, I have been  corresponding with The Humane Society of the United States asking how youth groups can empower teens to care for animals.  The Humane Society of the United States has faith outreach programs that guide and educate the next generation to develop and foster humane attitudes and behavior toward animals.  To find out more about these programs provided by the Humane Society of the United States click here.  And feel free to email the HSUS faith outreach if you have any questions.    The HSUS is really helpful and want youth workers to understand the connection between teens and animals.

____________________________

Have you observed the same affinity between teens and their pets in your youth group?

Why do you think teens immediately connect with animals?

Have you ever been asked by your students if animals go to heaven?  If so, how have you answered this question?

About Jeremy Zach

Orange XP3 Specialist | Youth Worker | MDIV | Hot Sauce Addict | Dr. Dre Beats Lover

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I have been a bad blogger because of my inactivity. I am currently re-designing my website and getting settled in my new role at Orange and in my new home in Atlanta.

9 comments

  1. I believe animals do go to Heaven. I believe God cared for the animals when he instructed Noah to save them. I believe he knows when the sparrow falls.
    I believe he created them as he created us and he knows our hearts desire.
    How many of God’s children would desire their beloved pets?
    I give Humane Education talks at elementary schools when a child asks me if their pet will be in Heaven I say “what do you think?”
    I pray with all my heart all of Gods wonderful creatures will be in Heaven.
    I believe the verse below speaks to the issue:
    “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, NIV)

  2. I actually got that question a while back as well and did some research because I’d honestly never thought of it before. Randy Alcorn writes about it in his book Heaven and his viewpoint is that there’s no Biblical basis to believe our pets go to heaven. But at the same time he doesn’t think it impossible either, because the new earth will be a lot like this one (only perfect). Since we as humans love pets here, why not assume we’ll have pets in heaven as well? They may not necessarily be the same pets, but even that is possible for God, isn’t it? (in which case I’d have a problem because I really don’t like cats or dogs…sorry!)

  3. In all due respect, animals have souls. A great place for extensive research is the Eden Pubications’ books, videos by Mary Buddemeyer-Porter. Another great resource is a little book by Matthew Priebe, ‘Animals, Ethics & Christianity’. Visit our website for more information.
    Jan
    God’s Creatures Ministry
    ps. We help people with vet bills and anyone can do our ‘Walk a Mile’ fundraiser to help people with animal’s vet expenses.

  4. In Genesis God is very clear that He created the animals for our companionship. There was no death until Adam and eve sinned. The animals are now suffering because of our sins. In the New Heaven and New Earth there will be no pain and suffering and no death. There are animals in Heaven as Revelation states: 7And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.

    8And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.

    9And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
    Many other passages refer to God’s creatures praising God in heaven. Our world was not created for our pleasure but to glorify God, the animals are part of God’s creation, why would He leave out such a huge part of His creation? He doesn’t. Animals are indeed in heaven, not as our pets but as our companions.

  5. I believe animals are as much a part of creation as we are. I believe that God fully intends to restore creation in God’s own time. I would have to say that animals (with perhaps the exception of the serpent) never strayed from God’s will. Therefore – as they still live in accordance with God’s plan – why shouldn’t they be a part of God’s eternity. Also with the mention of the serpent how do we explain that away. Clearly the serpent was described as crafty and able to make a decision. You mentioned that animals love unconditionally – how can something love if it doesn’t have a soul? I believe animals not only love their humans, they know and love their creator. Animals can learn our language and yet we cannot really understand theirs. Call me Thomas, but I cannot believe there are no animals in paradise until I see it.

  6. One widespread rationalization in Christian circles, often used to justify humanity’s mistreatment of animals, is the erroneous belief that humans alone possess immortal souls, and only humans, therefore, are worthy of moral consideration. The 19th century philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, condemned such a philosophy in his On the Basis of Morality.

    “Because Christian morality leaves animals out of account,” wrote Schopenhauer, “they are at once outlawed in philosophical morals; they are mere ‘things,’ mere means to any ends whatsoever. They can therefore be used for vivisection, hunting, coursing, bullfights, and horse racing, and can be whipped to death as they struggle along with heavy carts of stone.

    “Shame on such a morality that is worthy of pariahs, and that fails to recognize the eternal essence that exists in every living thing, and shines forth with inscrutable significance from all eyes that see the sun!”

    According to the Bible, animals have souls. Texts such as Genesis 1:21,24 are often mistranslated to read “living creatures.” The exact Hebrew used in reference to animals throughout the Bible is “nephesh chayah,” or “living soul.”

    This is how the phrase has been translated in Genesis 2:7 and in four hundred other places in the Old Testament.

    God breathed the “breath of life” into man, and caused him to become a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

    Animals have the same “breath of life” as do humans. (Genesis 7:15, 22) Numbers 16:22 refers to the Lord as “the God of spirits of all flesh.”

    In Numbers 31:28, God commands Moses to divide up among the people the cattle, sheep, asses and human prisoners captured in battle and to give to the Lord “one soul of five hundred” among humans and animals alike.

    Psalm 104 says God provides for animals and their ensoulment:

    “O Lord, how innumerable are Thy works; in wisdom Thou hast made them all! The earth is full of Thy well-made creations. All these look to Thee to furnish their timely feed. When Thou providest for them, they gather it. Thou openest Thy hand, and they are satisfied with good things.

    “When Thou hidest Thy face, they are struck with despair. When Thou cuttest off their breath, in death they return to their dust. Thou sendest Thy Spirit and more are created, and Thou dost replenish the surface of the earth.”

    Similarly, the apocryphal Book of Judith praises God, saying, “Let every creature serve You, for You spoke and they were made. You sent forth Your Spirit and they were created.” Job 12:10 teaches that in God’s hand “is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”

    Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 says humans have no advantage over animals: “They all draw the same breath…all came from the dust, and to dust all return.”

    The verse that immediately follows asks, “Who knows if the spirit of man goes upward, and the spirit of the beast goes down to the earth?”

    The exact Hebrew word for “spirit,” “ruach,” is used in connection with animals as well as humans.

    Ecclesiastes 12:7 concludes that “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”

    Paul referred to God as the “giver of life and breath and all things to everyone.” (Acts 17:25) In Romans 8:18-25, Paul wrote that the entire creation, and not just mankind, is awaiting redemption.

    Revelations 16:3 also refers to the souls of animals:

    “The second angel poured out his bowl upon the sea, so that it turned to blood as of a corpse, and every living soul that was in the sea died.”

    The exact Greek word for soul, “psyche,” was used in the original texts.

    English theologian Joseph Butler (1692-1752), a contemporary of John Wesley’s, was born in a Presbyterian family, joined the Church of England, and eventually became a bishop and dean of St. Paul’s.

    In his 1736 work, The Analogy of Religion, Bishop Butler became one of the first clergymen to teach the immortality of animal souls.

    “Neither can we find anything in the whole analogy of Nature to afford even the slightest presumption that animals ever lose their living powers, much less that they lose them by death,” he wrote.

    The Reverend John George Wood (1827-89) was an eloquent and prolific writer on the subject of animals. A popular lecturer on the subject of natural history, he wrote several books as well, such as My Feathered Friends and Man and Beast — Here and Hereafter.

    Wood believed most people were cruel to animals because they were unaware that the creatures possessed immortal souls and would enjoy eternal life.

    One of the most scholarly studies on the issue of animal souls was undertaken by Elijah D. Buckner in his 1903 book The Immortality of Animals. He concluded:

    “…The Bible, without the shadow of a doubt, recognizes that animals have living souls the same as man. Most of the quotations given are represented as having been spoken by the Creator Himself, and he certainly knows whether or not He gave to man and lower animals alike a living soul, which of course means an immortal soul.”

    In his 1987 book, Christianity and the Rights of Animals, the Reverend Andrew Linzey, an Anglican clergyman and the foremost theologian in the field of animal-human relations, responds to the widespread Christian misconception that animals have no souls by taking it to its logical conclusion:

    “But let us suppose for a moment that it could be shown that animals lack immortal souls, does it follow that their moral status is correspondingly weakened? It is difficult to see in what sense it could be. If animals are not to be recompensated with an eternal life, how much more difficult must it be to justify their temporal sufferings?

    “If, for an animal, this life is all that he can have, the moral gravity of any premature termination is thereby increased rather than lessened…

    “In short, if we invoke the traditional argument against animals based on soullessness, we are not exonerated from the need for proper moral justification.

    “Indeed, if the traditional view is upheld, the question has to be: How far can any proposed aim justify to the animal concerned what would seem to be a *greater* deprivation or injury than if the same were inflicted on a human being?”

    “Mark Twain remarked long ago that human beings have a lot to learn from the Higher Animals,” writes Unitarian minister Gary Kowalski, in his 1991 book, The Souls of Animals. “Just because they haven’t invented static cling, ICBM’s, or television evangelists doesn’t mean they aren’t spiritually evolved.”

    Kowalski’s definition of “spiritually evolved” includes “the development of a moral sense, the appreciation of beauty, the capacity for creativity, and the awareness of one’s self within a larger universe as well as a sense of mystery and wonder about it all. These are the most precious gifts we possess…

    “I am a parish minister by vocation,” Kowalski explains. “My work involves the intangible and perhaps undefinable realm of spirit. I pray with the dying and counsel the bereaved. I take part in the joy of parents christening their newborns and welcoming fresh life into the world.

    “I occasionally help people think through moral quandaries and make ethical decisions, and I also share a responsibility for educating the young, helping them realize their inborn potential for reverence and compassion.

    “Week after week I stand before my congregation and try to talk about the greatest riddles of human existence. In recent years, however, I have become aware that human beings are not the only animals on this planet that participate in affairs of the spirit.”

    Kowalski notes that animals are aware of death. They have a sense of their own mortality, and grieve at the loss of companions. Animals possess language, musical abilities, a sense of the mysterious, creativity and playfulness. Animals possess a sense of right and wrong; they are capable of fidelity, altruism, and even self-sacrifice.

    “Animals, like us, are microcosms,” says Kowalski. “They too care and have feelings; they too dream and create; they too are adventuresome and curious about their world. They too reflect the glory of the whole.

    “Can we open our hearts to the animals? Can we greet them as our soul mates, beings like ourselves who possess dignity and depth? To do so, we must learn to revere and respect the creatures, who, like us, are a part of God’s beloved creation, and to cherish the amazing planet that sustains our mutual existence.

    “Animals,” Kowalski concludes, “are living souls. They are not things. They are not objects. Neither are they human. Yet they mourn. They love. They dance. They suffer. They know the peaks and chasms of being.”

    • Thank you for all of the insightful information. I hope that the author of this blog, as well as all ministers and teachers out there revise their teachings. I think it is really unfair to teach youth that they will not be reunited with their pets in heaven.