Do All Dogs Go to Heaven?
Disney’s 1989 hit film, All Dogs Go to Heaven, features a heart-warming dialogue between a little girl named Anne-Marie and her dog Charlie:
Anne-Marie: Will I ever see you again?
Charlie: Sure. Sure you will. You know goodbyes aren't forever.
Anne-Marie: Well then, goodbye, Charlie. I love you.
Charlie: Yeah, uh. I love you too.
Despite being a children’s film, All Dogs Go to Heaven broaches a question many of us ask, namely, we will see our beloved pet(s) in the hereafter? Admittedly, the church hasn’t given a unanimous answer to this question. Even so, a careful consideration of the Scriptures implies that God intends for the love and care we give to our pets and that, to borrow a phrase, “Goodbyes aren’t forever.”
Consistently, the Scriptures require that God’s people show animals care and compassion. Deuteronomy 25:4 states, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” This law precluded Israelites from preventing their ox from eating while it bore a burden. God cared enough to ensure that the ox was able to eat while it worked. Proverbs 12:10 teaches that the righteous take care of his animal: “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” Similarly, Proverbs 27:23 commands, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.” That God requires we care for animals shouldn’t surprise us since it was he who blessed animals in the beginning and ensured their survival when he judged the earth by flood (Gen. 6:19-20).
Do you recall the story the prophet Nathan told King David after David had sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba? Nathan described a poor man who treasured a lamb, even letting it drink from his cup and eat from his plate (2 Sam. 12:3). Owing to his callous selfishness, a rich man stole the lamb and slaughtered it. King David responded to this account by pronouncing, “As Yahweh lives, the man who has done this deserves to die…” (v. 5). While we know that the story of the man and his lamb is fictional and that this story was used as a means to convict David of his sin, it does imply something about our relationship with our pets. Killing a lamb was not illegal in Israel. Indeed, such a practice was exceedingly common. Even stealing a lamb would not have merited the death penalty. Why then did David pronounce, “The man who has done this deserves to die”? It is because of the relationship between the poor man and the lamb. The lamb, in and of itself, is inconsequential. However, because that lamb was loved and cherished by its owner, killing it became a capital offense in the sight of Israel’s greatest king.
My point here is that we imbue value in our animals and because of that, they are valuable in the sight of God. To take a human example, for quite some time my two oldest sons loved to play airsoft. If you don’t know what “airsoft” is, let me summarize: Imagine getting painfully shot with hundreds of plastic pellets for hours at a time. Airsoft was never my idea of a good time. However, because my sons loved it, I took an interest in it. I repeatedly took them to play airsoft and participated in myself, even earning a fair amount of welts on more than one occasion. Because God loves us (Eph. 2:4), he cares about what we care about. If we love something, God values it. If you were blessed to have a pet and rejoiced in this good gift of creation, God values that creation.
It would seem that Ecclesiastes 3:21 implies that animals have a kind of soul, although it is not comparable to the soul within man. Moreover, since God will one day renew the entire cosmos and resurrect humanity, it stands to reason that he will similarly renew the animals. Indeed, the cow and the bear shall graze together and the lion will lay down with the lamb (Isa. 11:6-9). Scripture implies, therefore, that animals will be in the resurrection.
But what about our animals? Remember that God is not re-creating the world in the resurrection but renewing it. The same creation we enjoy today will be the creation God renews when Christ returns. Sin brought death into this world, not merely to human beings but also to the animals. God will resurrect your beloved pets inasmuch as he resurrects you. He will renew their strength: “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). Calvin, commenting on this passage, wrote, “Thus the condemnation of mankind is imprinted on the heavens, and on the earth, and on all creatures. It hence also appears to what excelling glory the sons of God shall be exalted; for all creatures shall be renewed in order to amplify it, and to render it illustrious” (emphasis added).
Let the death of our beloved pets serve as a reminder of that time when Christ will renew the heavens and earth. Tell your dog what Luther told his: “Be thou comforted, little dog, thou too in resurrection shall have a little golden tail.”